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12 Volunteers to Start Getting HIV Vaccine

The Associated Press

ATLANTA -- Human volunteers this week began signing up for an experimental HIV vaccine developed at Atlanta's Emory University.

Twelve people are expected to take part in the trial at four participating research centers _ St. Louis University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Maryland and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Volunteers should begin getting shots any day now, said Don Hildebrand, the chief executive of GeoVax Inc., the Atlanta biotechnology firm that licensed the vaccine.

It's a phase one trial, in which healthy, uninfected volunteers are given low doses in a check for safety and immune response, Hildebrand said Friday.

A second, higher-dose trial with 36 people is expected to begin in a few months.

If these trials are successful, future trials will be done to see if the vaccine actually prevents the virus from causing AIDS, he said.

The GeoVax product is one of more than 30 preventive AIDS vaccines in early stages of human clinical trials in approximately two dozen countries, according to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, a not-for-profit organization devoted to AIDS prevention.

One of the furthest along is a Merck & Co. vaccine, which tries to build immunity using a modified cold virus. About 3,000 people are being enrolled in Merck's phase two trial of the vaccine.

The GeoVax vaccine is administered in four doses, spread over the course of about two months. The first two doses contain fragments of HIV DNA, which prime the patient's immune response system. The second two doses contain an altered poxvirus designed to boost the immune system, Hildebrand said.

It was developed by a scientific team led by Harriet Robinson of Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Emory researchers began working on the vaccine in 1997. It worked in rhesus macaques, protecting 22 of 23 vaccinated monkeys from AIDS for more than 3 1/2 years.

In 2003 and 2004, the DNA component of the vaccine was tested in 30 HIV-negative volunteers in Birmingham, Seattle and San Francisco. It was deemed safe, Hildebrand said. The new trials are testing both the components, he explained.

AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe has covered medical and health issues since 1989.