HIV. Few diseases in human history can match its destruction of the fear it can inspire. A human disease, we are all susceptible to its deadly grip.
Since first discovered and named in 1984 by Dr. Robert Gallo and his team, physicians and researchers have studied the virus to find its weaknesses and defeat it. There have been failures, and there have been successes.
Now, Dr. Robert Gallo thinks he’s found the key to defeating the virus. This month he and his team are beginning human trials on a new HIV vaccine that they believe will stop the virus dead in its tracks.
The vaccine works by blocking the virus before it can invade and attack the body’s T-cells. Once the HIV virus attacks these cells, it mutates and becomes invisible to the body’s immune system. This makes it very difficult to treat, and almost impossible to destroy. After all, you can’t hit an enemy if you can’t find your enemy. This is why modern drug therapies only suppress the virus and cannot eradicate it from the deep reservoirs it can hide within.
To stop the virus, Dr. Gallo’s vaccine binds to the HIV virus at the moment of infection. At this stage, the virus is very fragile and unprotected from the body’s immune system; it’s naked if you will. The vaccine would effectively catch it off guard and wipe it out before it can infect a single cell.
It is a narrow window when HIV infection can be aborted and the body’s immune system protected from the attack. However, studies around the world using high doses of PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis), which is essentially a hefty cocktail of HIV medication, have shown definitive results substantiating this theory. Indeed, very few people who are administered a full course of PEP following a confirmed exposure convert to being HIV positive. Dr. Gallo’s theory has already been proven.
Dr. Gallo and his team have been developing their vaccine based on this theory for 15 years and will conduct human trials over the next year. Phase 1 trials will start in just a couple of weeks. The purpose of the Phase I trial is to determine the treatment’s safety in human subjects. This is standard with the creation of any new drug therapy or vaccine. Thus far, studies and computer modeling have shown positive results and the treatment is expected to be well tolerated by the body.
If the Phase 1 clinical trial is successful, Phase 2 will commence on a larger group of patients next fall. That trial would last for 1-2 years, followed by a Phase III trial to study efficacy and for potential broader use and sale.
Thus, while the miracle vaccine won’t happen overnight, Dr. Gallo is very clearly one step closer. If there is anyone on earth with the knowledge and skill to stop this virus before it destroys another life, it’s the man who first stared it down 31 years ago.
Here’s hoping that Dr. Gallo’s name will go down in history not only as the man who discovered the killer’s presence; but as the man who killed the killer.
For more about this vaccine and the work Dr. Gallo and his team are conducting, visit the Institute of Human Virology where they will be sharing the trial’s progress and results with the public.