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Thailand OKs AIDS Vaccine Trial

February 9, 1999

GENEVA (AP) _ Thailand has given the go-ahead for the first large-scale AIDS vaccine trial in a developing country, the U.N. agency in charge of fighting AIDS announced Tuesday.

Some 2,500 intravenous drug users in the Thai capital of Bangkok will take part in the four-year trial of the AIDSVAX vaccine, made by VaxGen Inc. of Brisbane, Ca.

``This trial signifies an important early step toward the development of a safe and effective vaccine against HIV, an essential strategy for bringing the epidemic under control,″ said Peter Piot, executive director of the UNAIDS program.

Although about 30 possible vaccines are being developed, officials said AIDSVAX is the first to advance to large-scale testing intended to see whether it truly prevents AIDS infections.

Last June, an AIDS vaccine study began in the United States with 5,000 volunteers. The vaccine being tested in Thailand is different from the product used in the United States, to match the different strains of HIV that exist in Thailand.

Jose Esparza, leader of the vaccine team at UNAIDS, said Thai volunteers would also receive education and counseling to try to reduce the levels of HIV infection. About 5 percent of the group would normally become infected every year, he said.

Half the volunteers will receive the vaccine while the other half will be given a placebo. The test will cost up to $9 million, with most of the money coming from VaxGen. Inc.

Administering of the vaccine will begin within the next few weeks, and the first results are expected in about 30 months.

A number of small-scale tests have been carried out in other developing countries.

On Monday, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced the testing another possible vaccine in Uganda. The yearlong study is enrolling 40 healthy adults at low risk of getting HIV; 20 will get the experimental vaccine.

Researchers in Uganda will monitor safety reactions and immune system changes to see if the vaccine has anti-HIV potential. If so, larger studies could follow.

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