Clinical Testing Begins on New HIV Vaccine at UMass Medical School in Worcester

Clinical testing is set to begin on a new HIV vaccine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

The research has been decades in the making and there is new optimism that the testing will help provide hope for people battling the virus.

"There’s new optimism for HIV vaccines," said Fenway Health Medical Research Director Dr. Kenneth Mayer.

Dr. Shan Lu of UMass Medical School has been reaching an HIV vaccine for more than 20 years.

"They said HIV is too tough. There’s no chance in our lifetime to see an HIV vaccine, I think that we never gave up,” said Lu.

He says the school had a human trial with their version of a DNA-based HIV vaccine a decade ago that was very promising.

"So we pick pieces of a gene from the virus — it itself is not infectious — only pieces, not a whole virus, we use that to prime the immune system," Lu said.

Lu and his team have now advanced that research into phase 1 clinical trials at four locations across the country, including in Boston at Fenway Community Health Center.

"Here in Massachusetts there are more than 20,000 people living with HIV and last year there were more than 600 people who newly became infected in this area alone," Mayer said.

Fenway Health is working on a handful of HIV vaccine trials — including the UMass Medical School vaccine — which they hope will eventually lead to a promising prevention tool.

"It could be possible that this vaccine could be part of a suite of vaccines that might be given to people to really get a strong level of immunity against HIV," Mayer said.

Mayer says Fenway Health will likely begin patient trials with UMass Medical School’s HIV vaccine in the next few weeks. It would be a trial with low-risk patients.

Trials for high-risk patients are still a few years out.

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