New HIV vaccine debuts in Ybor City

03/02/09 Concetta DeLuco
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Amid the festivities at Southern Exposure, the nation’s first all-gay carnival held in Ybor over the weekend, a press conference was held on Saturday to announce the next steps in the development of a new HIV vaccination.

Referred to as the “GaYbor District,” Ybor currently hosts the nation’s highest gay population. At the Hampton Inn, the Atlanta-based GeoVax Labs Inc. educated some of the city’s residents and weekend visitors about the intended effects and next phase of their HIV vaccination.

Dr. Harriet Robinson is the lead researcher for and co-founder of GeoVax Labs. Robinson said the HIV vaccination has two different purposes. The first objective, Robinson said, is to use the vaccine to provide preventative care to non-infected individuals.

GeoVax Lab’s second goal for the vaccine is a therapeutic application. Robinson said the vaccine is intended to treat people who have HIV, but have only contracted the virus within a year or less. She said the results from testing the vaccination so far have proven most successful in individuals who were recently infected as opposed to those who have had HIV for a long time.

Robinson said the results from testing the vaccine for preventative care have been better than the results for therapeutic treatment. The reason, Robinson said, is because AIDS destroys the immune system of those people already infected, but people need a strong immune system for a successful vaccination response.

There are more than 60,000 new HIV cases a year and many different strains of the virus affecting different regions, globally. Robinson said GeoVax Inc is working on one of the major HIV strains, which is Subtype B. It is the same type of virus that exists in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. Robinson said that many other institutes are researching similar vaccinations, but so far, GeoVax Lab’s vaccine has been among the most successful.

There are three phases of testing the vaccine. Mark Reynolds, chief financial officer for GeoVax Labs Inc., said the Phase 2 A Trial for preventative care is expected to last for a year and a half and cost $5 million. Phase 3, Reynolds said, is expected to cost $30 million. Reynolds said GeoVax is mostly funded by the government, but additional money is always needed.

Matthew Mushlin, a representative for GeoVax Labs, said that the majority of stock investors in GeoVax are members of the GLTB community, and for many it is their first investment.

George Molina is a gay man visiting from Fort Lauderdale. He said the gay community has become a proponent for the drug with the hope of finding a cure for the world.

Pending on whether the vaccine passes phase 2 and 3 and is approved by the FDA, GeoVax Labs says it hopes to make the vaccine affordable and available to all.

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