Doctors willing to risk AIDS experiment
'If this works, we'll have a vaccine in 10 years'
November 11, 1997
Web posted at: 10:11 p.m. EST (0311 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Several AIDS doctors say they are prepared to undergo a dangerous experiment to test a live AIDS vaccine in the hopes of finding a cure.
The doctors said Tuesday that they could have human trials
underway in six months to a year if their proposal is approved.
"If this vaccine works, we'll definitely have a vaccine
within 10 years," Dr. Charles Farthing, medical director of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told an AIDS conference in Washington.
"If it doesn't, we might not ever have one."
Farthing is one of five members of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC) who have volunteered to test the vaccine on themselves. But the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says it is too dangerous.
"We need to wait until we have more data," says Sandy Thurman, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. "The (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved of these trials and I think they're being very cautious, and well they should be."
The vaccine, which has been successful in macaque monkeys, is made up of a genetically weakened but live strain of the AIDS virus. There is a risk -- which Farthing's group says is worth taking -- that healthy people given the vaccine would themselves develop HIV infection.
Doctors say NIH moving too slow
Farthing and his colleagues say they have 300 volunteers, some of them doctors and nurses, who have promised to take part in the live vaccine trial if it is expanded.
Why, he is asked, would a healthy person want to risk taking the vaccine?
"My main motivation was frustration, really, that this clinical trial, which I think is important, is not going ahead," he said.
Farthing wants to take his proposal to the FDA in December. By then, he hopes to have a vaccine made from a genetically altered version of the HIV virus ready to go.
Other vaccines currently being tested use bits of the
protein coat that surrounds the virus, hoping it will
stimulate the body's immune system to better recognize and
attack the virus. So far, none has worked.
Farthing says he is frustrated that the National Institutes of Health will not approve faster vaccine trials. Richard Marlink, executive director of the Harvard AIDS Institute, agrees and suggests taking responsibility for approving and funding vaccine research away from the NIH.
"Thirteen years after the isolation of HIV in the
laboratory, the NIH has been unable to bring a single candidate AIDS vaccine into field trials to determine if it even works," Marlink said. "Its bureaucracy hinders efforts to respond quickly to epidemics."
Expert: No reason to wait
Marlink said a meeting of top vaccine experts agreed there
was no need to wait for detailed laboratory tests. "Nor should we wait for an animal model to show us the clear, safe path," he said.
"From the beginning of vaccine science -- from William
Jenner's smallpox vaccine and Louis Pasteur's rabies vaccine -- it has become clear that only one animal can reliably predict a vaccine's success in people -- the human animal."
Marlink suggested creating a new agency to oversee AIDS vaccine research.
IAPAC president Dr. Gordon Nary said his organization would
take other action to get quicker funding of AIDS vaccines and
treatment programs. He said the Global Biography Project would bombard government and health officials around the world with personalized stories and photographs of AIDS victims.
"We will make it our responsibility that those who have the
power to save these people's lives will know who they are, why they will die and how their deaths will affect those who love them and society," he told the conference.
"I believe we will save lives."
Correspondent Jeff Levine and Reuters contributed to this report.