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AIDS vaccine predicted 'in 10 years'

AIDS poster
Indian sex workers put up AIDS posters  

By staff and wires

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Researchers are optimistic a vaccine for HIV/AIDS will be available within 10 years, a U.S. health expert has told a major Asia-Pacific conference on the disease.

Although it is unlikely to be fully effective against all strains of the virus, Margaret Johnston, Associate Director of AIDS vaccines at the National Institutes of Health in the United States, said there were dozens of vaccine prototypes under development around the world.

"There's never been more optimism than there is now that an HIV vaccine can be identified," Johnston told delegates to the Sixth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in the southern city of Melbourne.

"However, we don't know what it will look like just yet. We don't know how it will act. Clinical trials will take a long time and it's likely the first (vaccines) ... will not be 100 percent effective," she added.

Johnston said the most advanced vaccine now being tested is GP-120, developed by the California-based VaxGen biotech company.

The product is made from a protein that forms the outer surface of the HIV virus and stimulates antibodies to neutralize or stop the virus from spreading.

Now being tested in Thailand, North America and the Netherlands, results could be available as early as next month.

If they are promising, another larger trial over three years would be conducted, she said.

Cambodia has the highest national rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Asia, but the number of new infections each year has dropped as prevention strategies take effect, experts said at the weekend.

About 3,000 officials from more than 40 countries are represented at the conference, which runs until October 10.

Thailand and Cambodia have seen the numbers of people infected drop mainly because of the wider use of condoms.

Some 36 million people around the world are living with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, according to the United Nations AIDS agency, UNAIDS.

In Asia, about 6.4 million people carry the disease, second only to the sub-Saharan Africa region.

So far, the spread of AIDS across Asia has been relatively contained to high-risk groups including sex workers, intravenous drug users, and homosexual men.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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