First-Ever Effective HIV Vaccine Announced

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In a first, an experimental vaccine was found to reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV.

It’s very far from 100% effective. Based on a trial of 16,000 participants, incidents of contracting the virus fell 31%, but that’s much more significant than has been seen in any past trials.

WSJ: The study actually tested a two-vaccine combo in a “prime-boost” approach, where the first one primes the immune system to attack HIV and the second one strengthens the response.

They are ALVAC, from Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis; and AIDSVAX, originally developed by VaxGen Inc. and now held by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, a nonprofit founded by some former VaxGen employees.

ALVAC uses canarypox, a bird virus altered so it can’t cause human disease, to ferry synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body. AIDSVAX contains a genetically engineered version of a protein on HIV’s surface. The vaccines are not made from whole virus — dead or alive — and can’t cause HIV.

Neither vaccine in the study prevented HIV infection when tested individually in earlier trials, and dozens of scientists had called the new one futile when it began in 2003.

Obviously, one trial is just the beginning of what will probably be years of development before this turns into anything that is deemed worthwhile and scalable. Still, it’s exciting news. Watch shares of Sanofi (SNY) to move today.

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