GENEVA: The aging fisherman in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Old Man and the Sea” swilled shark liver oil to ward off colds and flu. Now Novartis AG is betting it can help protect against AIDS.
Novartis is teaming up with Sanofi, adding a boosting agent to the French drugmaker’s earlier attempt at making an AIDS vaccine. That first effort lost its punch over time.
The new combination represents the most advanced attempt to develop an effective shot against the deadly pathogen. Human tests are scheduled to start next year or early in 2014.
HIV infection, which causes AIDS, was once a death sentence. Today the disease can be blunted with drugs but only a vaccine can deliver a knock-out blow. If the Novartis-Sanofi project pays off, it will be the world’s first effective vaccine against AIDS, which has killed 30 million people over 30 years.
“It’s got a good chance of success,” said Nelson Michael, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, which is also participating in the project. “We’re going to need a vaccine to wipe this thing off the planet.”
Developing a vaccine against AIDS, which infects a new person every 12 seconds, is one of the biggest challenges facing the medical research community. The subject will be discussed at an AIDS conference in Washington next month and serve as the focus of another gathering in Boston in September.
HIV has proved a wily foe, constantly mutating to defeat virus-fighting drugs. Because vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize a pathogen, researchers have struggled against an ever-changing target. (Bloomberg/tw)