FIT Biotech to Begin HIV Vaccine Trial as Early as Spring 2014

FIT biotech, a Finnish company, expects to begin clinical trials of a vaccine for HIV-infected patients in 2014.

FIT biotech, a Finnish company, expects to begin clinical trials of a vaccine for HIV-infected patients in 2014.

FIT Biotech has developed a vaccine that is ready for testing in a large clinical trial involving hundreds of patients with HIV. The Finnish company plans to begin testing as early as spring of 2014. Even in an optimal scenario, according to FIT Biotech CEO and medical doctor Kalevi Reijonen, clinical trials will last at least 2 to 3 years.

Testing will initially occur in patients who are already infected with HIV and are receiving medication. Earlier tests show that the new vaccine may slow the progression of HIV infection, although it is too early to judge whether the vaccine has the potential to be curative. To develop the vaccine, FIT biotech is collaborating with 2 European Universities and at least 1 American pharmaceutical company.

The study will begin with several hundred patients with HIV. If results of those initial tests are favorable, the study may expand to include approximately 1000 patients in France and Switzerland. Even the most optimistic estimates place approval of an HIV vaccine for patients who already have the infection at least 5 years in the future, and Reijonen estimates that a preventive vaccine is at least a decade away.

Scientists at FIT biotech use technology called a gene transport unit (GTU) to introduce genes from HIV into the body, generating an immune response to HIV. If this mechanism proves to be safe and effective, Reijonen predicts HIV-associated treatment costs to shrink by an order of magnitude to 10% of the current yearly disease management cost.

Although vaccination is an exciting possibility, past research in HIV vaccination has been fraught with difficulties. Two trials of an HIV vaccine were terminated in 2007 due to safety issues. Results of the 2009 Thai HIV vaccine clinical trial initially showed that an experimental HIV vaccine reduced the risk of developing HIV by 31% in vaccinated individuals, but later criticism showed that the efficacy of the vaccine remains unproven due to statistical concerns. More recently, an Iowa State University assistant professor admitted to manipulating samples of rabbit blood to make an experimental HIV vaccine appear effective.

Despite these setbacks, progress continues. With many groups around the world working on a vaccine-based approach to HIV treatment, an effective vaccine may one day become a reality. For millions of patients around the world, that day cannot come soon enough.