VIDEO: Canadian scientists get go-ahead for HIV vaccine testing
Canadian scientists are beaming as the country's first attempt at an HIV vaccine moves out of the lab and into early clinical trials. But it will be years before they know if the vaccine will be effective.
Scientists at the University of Western Ontario have brought their HIV vaccine to the point where the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it can go forward with clinical trials.
The drug, which is in the earliest phases of clinical trials, is being tested on 40 HIV positive volunteers to make sure it is safe for use in humans, said researcher Dr. Chil-Yong Kang. It's already been tested extensively in animals.
"To have this approval from U.S. FDA to test this vaccine in humans, this is a very important stage," the doctor said.
If it passes this stage, the vaccine will go into more advanced trials that will seek to determine if it's effective. The idea is, like most vaccines, to prevent people from contracting the disease, rather than treating them after the fact. An advanced clinical trial will require thousands of people to receive the vaccine, but remains a long ways off.
"Phase three is something we do not know, and God only knows, so we'll see if this is efficacious," Kang said.
That is a big question. More than a dozen vaccines have gotten to early clinical trials after showing tremendous promise in animals, only to be ineffective in humans, said Dr. Myron Cohen, a North Carolina researcher uninvolved with the clinical trial.
"At the end of the day, we're trying to make a vaccine for humans, not animals," he said.
And while the research that led to the vaccine was done in Canada, it'll be a multinational effort to bring it to market. A Korean drug company is funding the trials and American facilities are producing the vaccine, because Canada doesn't have the facilities to support this sort of innovation, said Amit Chakma, president of the university.
This is the first time a Canadian HIV vaccine has advanced to clinical trials.
"The sad story of our country is we have many, many successes like this, but for us to take it to the next level, the innovation system in this country is just not adequate," Chakma said.
It'll be at least four years before anyone can say conclusively that the vaccine works. But many are holding out hope.