Instability in mass production
While the HIV-vaccine trial remains in suspended animation owing to the instability of vaccine in mass production, efforts continue to find a way to break the impasse.
Tested jointly at National AIDS Research Institute (NARI), Pune, and the Tuberculosis Research Centre here, the vaccine candidate is Modified Vaccinia, derived from the Indian HIV strain. The main reason for this impasse is the fact that the vaccine candidate proved to be ‘unstable' when attempts were made to ‘scale up'.
The problem is that the vaccine is “very complex,” according to V.D. Ramanathan, principal investigator on the trial, at the National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis. There are six out of nine genes of HIV (Indian strain) that have been modified (in order to ensure that no harm occurs), and put into a smallpox vaccine.
“The product is, indeed, good. We do not have the technology to scale this vaccine up yet,” explained Dr. Ramanathan. “But, it is, indeed, possible that we develop it tomorrow. Efforts are on to see if the vaccine candidate can be made stable at the mass production level.”
Also, the ICMR is keen on pursuing this angle as well, considering that this vaccine is derived from an Indian HIV strain and would like to see this research go further, he added.
While the safety and moderate success of the vaccine has been established, the question is now what will happen to the vaccine and the infrastructure readied for the project. “While right now, there seems to be no other promising vaccine candidate, we are trying out various other possibilities as well,” Dr. Ramanathan explained.
S.M. Mehendale, principal investigator of the Pune trial, said: “We will test other vaccine candidates as and when they emerge. This is definitely a disease we need to find a vaccine for.”
According to the International Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), they have two major programmes for AIDS vaccine design in partnership with the Indian government with the aim of addressing the Indian epidemic. One of them, the joint IAVI and THSTI immunogen design programme, is among the most significant research initiatives recently undertaken by the institution and they are closely involved in the trial.