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University of Maryland Researchers to Begin HIV Vaccine Clinical Trial

Monday, October 12, 2015

Posted on the Baltimore Business Journal

The Institute of Human Virology at University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore is launching a clinical trial of an HIV vaccine candidate.

The vaccine candidate, called Full Length Single Chain, is being developed by a team led by Dr. Robert C. Gallo, a world-renowned HIV researcher and director of the institute. Profectus BioSciences Inc., a startup launched out of the institute, will produce the vaccine material for the trial.

The institute on Oct. 1 began enrolling volunteers for the vaccine candidate's phase 1 trial, its first with humans. The trial should take about a year and is a major step toward bringing to market a potential vaccine for HIV/AIDS, which has no cure.

“We will learn from this trial and what we learn will be important,” Gallo said in an interview.

He emphasized that while a clinical trial with humans is an important step, there is still much work to be done before a vaccine would be ready for widespread use.

Gallo has dedicated much of his professional life to HIV/AIDS research. He discovered the first human retroviruses and is credited with the co-discovery that HIV causes AIDS. He also led development of the HIV blood test.

Still, HIV/AIDS remains one of medicine’s largest unsolved problems. There is no cure for HIV/AIDS and the virus’ unique characteristics make developing a vaccine challenging.

HIV is a retrovirus, which means that when it infects cells, it changes their DNA — a change that cannot be undone. Any vaccine must block the virus from infecting cells, rather than attacking the virus once it does.

Past efforts to develop an HIV vaccine have been stymied by their inability to target all strains of the virus. The institute’s vaccine candidate will have a broader antibody response, which researchers hope will make it a more viable option for protecting patients.

Gallo’s team includes fellow institute researchers George Lewis and Anthony DeVico, and Tim Fouts, a founder of Profectus BioSciences and the company’s senior director of virology.