Houston Chosen for Early
'87 AIDS Vaccine Testing
By Sheri Cohen Darbonne
Testing of an experimental AIDS vaccine on humans could be scheduled at
Houston's Institute for Immunological
Disorders as early as January 1987,
according to J.J. Finkelstein, president
of the company that developed the vaccine.
Lynne Walters, a speaker for the institute, confirmed the expected date of inti-
tiating the tests "early in 1987," but said
the company, Viral Technologies Inc. of
Washington, D.C'., still had "hurdles" to
clear before the vaccine is approved for
human tests by the Food and Drug
The hurdles include further toxicology studies and certain typesof primate
testing, as well as application by Viral
Technologies for an Investigative New
Drug (IND) status, Walters said.
Finkelstein, a native Houstonian and
former Montrose resident, said that
animal students conducted by his company "have thus far all been positive."
The primate testing will be completed
"very shortly," and formal toxicology
tests on different species are in progress, he said.
Finkelstein said the vaccine, derived
from a synthesized protein, is made in
the laboratory through conventional
chemical synthesis, and is not a deactivated virus vaccine, which "tends to
worry some people." Because of the way
it is produced, the vaccine is "virtually
free of impurities," Finkelstein said.
Animal tests have shown that the
vaccine, when injected, induces the
animals' bodies to produce antibodies
against a specific element of the AIDS
virus' core, Finkelstein said. That part
of the virus, known as p-17-gag, has
been indicated specifically by AIDS
researchers as correlative to the number
of antibodies an infected person retains
to fight off the disease, he said.
The protein, consisting of .'.0 amino
acids, was discovered inadvertently by
a company affiliated with Viral Technologies, which ran a computer check
on its structure and found a 50 percent
"homology with that of the AIDS virus.
Finkelstein said. The similarity was
thought by researchers to be "too close
to be coincidental," he said.
The company, Alpha-I Biomedical,
was conducting studies on lung cancer
patients whose immune systems were
suppressed by radiation therapy when
it isolated the protein.
Finkelstein said the vaccine will be
tested first on volunteers who are
members of groups at the highest risk of
developing the disease and whose blood
tests negative for the HTLV-III antibody.
"I don't foresee any problems (in
obtaining FDA approval forthe tests)at
this point," Finkelstein said.
After the company applies for IND
status, Finkelstein said the state has 30
days to respond, after which the tests
are approved automatically if no
response is received.
However, Finkelstein added, the
approval process could be accelerated in
this case due to widespread public interest, and the experiments could be
approved as quickly as five days after
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