Cuban researchers from different scientific institutions have been working together in the search for new antiretroviral therapies and vaccinations against HIV/AIDS, and with progress having already been made, the research teams have strong hopes of advancing their research.
Research has led to the development of the therapeutic vaccine candidate GM3 which was jointly developed by the Molecular Immunology Center and the Tropical Medicine Institute (IPK). The vaccine is already in the second phase of clinical trials and has demonstrated promising results so far.
In a symposium held under the framework of the Biotechnology Congress 2012, the IPK director, Dr. Jorge Pérez, told the press that the compound is an immunogen that aims to reduce viral replication in HIV positive people with no toxic effects.
However, he stressed that it still has to undergo many trials and several years will be required before an effective AIDS vaccine is found.
The doctor noted that to date, prevention and safe sex are the only cure for the disease.
The scientist also praised the works that the Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Center is carrying out with another vaccine candidate, the TERAVAC-VIH-1, which has been under developmental study for some time now and recently finished the animal testing phase.
Referring to this study, Doctor of Sciences Enrique Iglesias Pérez, who is the head of the project, explained that the TERAVAC-VIH-1 aims to improve the patient's immune response.
The corresponding Cuban authorities recently approved the beginning of the project's Phase I clinical trial, which includes a reduced number of HIV positive people.
The expert noted that depending on the results of this phase, it will be determined whether or not the project will continue to another stage. He added that even though the compound proved to be effective in rats, there is no animal model able to reproduce the disease exactly as it occurs in humans.
“The test is scheduled to begin in the coming months. These tests are intended to prove that the vaccine candidate is safe, so until the tests are completed, we cannot assure that it will be effective nor can we create false expectations”, Iglesias said.
It has undergone more than 100 studies and clinical trials worldwide in the prophylactic and therapeutic fields, but so far they have proven to be unsuccessful; he affirmed that only one, known as RV144 and developed in Thailand, was found to have a modestly positive response that could indicate a certain level of protection.
Since HIV/AIDS was first detected in Cuba, a total of 15,824 HIV infected individuals have been reported, and 7,217 of those patients went on to develop AIDS. The number of infected people had been on the rise in the past years; however, 2011 registered a two percent drop for the first time ever, Pérez informed.
During the 2012 International Biotechnology Congress, it was announced that Cuba is also in the process of developing vaccines for dengue fever that have shown promising results.
According to Dr. María Guadalupe Guzmán, head of the IPK Virology Department, work is underway on a tetravalent vaccine against all four types of the dengue virus and also offers protection for those who live in or travel to areas where dengue is endemic.
Although dengue is not endemic in Cuba, it is a serious health problem in the Américas, where close to one million patients have been reported, Guzmán told Prensa Latina. She said that the goal is to conclude trials that are being conducted on monkeys, and if the results are positive, testing with humans will occur.