Last Friday, November 15th, the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Medicine hosted Atlanta-based GeoVax Labs, Inc.’s Chief Scientific Officer, Harriet L. Robinson, Ph.D., who presented the 20th Annual Jesse D. Ibarra, Jr., MD Lectureship in International Health, as part of the TAMHSC Grand Rounds lecture series.
Dr. Robinson noted what a unique honor it was to deliver her presentation, considering the lectureship’s namesake and history: “It was an honor and a privilege to be a presenter for Dr. Ibarra’s Lectureship in International Health,” she noted, adding, “Dr. Ibarra is now 90 years old. In the 1950s, he led the campaign to vaccinate Texans for polio virus. Our goal, now, is to create a vaccine that can be used to eradicate HIV.”
Among the many research initiatives underway throughout the state of Texas, the study of HIV/AIDS remains a major focus of Texas-based researchers, making Dr. Robinson’s presentation at TAMHSC a fitting one. Dr. Robinson spoke in her lecture about the marked progress that researchers, clinicians, and the medical industry as a whole have made towards treatment and a vaccine for HIV, all of which comprise a kind of “Public Health Toolkit” for the prevention and eventual eradication of AIDS throughout the world. In particular, Dr. Robinson’s noted the critical importance of a partially successful efficacy trial, RV144, which represents one of the best candidates for a viable HIV vaccine in the world today.
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According to Dr. Robinson, RV144 utilizes a binding but not neutralizing antibody, which, in its initial trial, demonstrated the possibility of an HIV vaccine that could substantially reduce the risk of infection. RV144 accomplishes this in a novel way, by creating a protective binding antibody that effectively blocks HIV infection by tagging the virus cells within the body infected by the virus, which in turn provides an easily discernible marker for the body’s white blood cells, such as macrophages, neutrophils, natural killer cells, to attack and destroy the HIV virus in an efficient manner.
Dr. Robinson, who serves as the CSO for GeoVax, cross-referenced data on the antibody responses from the company’s own Phase 2a trial of GeoVax’s DNA/MVA vaccine. According to a press release on MarketWatch, “She presented how these responses, which are preferentially targeted to the gp41 subunit of the HIV envelope protein, are favorable for binding to the HIV virus and flagging destruction of virus or virus-infected cells by white blood cells and complement. The presentation ended with a discussion of the plans within the field for future efficacy trials. These include trials of clade C vaccines in a heterosexual setting in South Africa and trials of GeoVax’s clade B vaccine in men who have sex with men in the Americas.”
Dr. Robinson concluded her lecture by pointing out how the Central Texas-based Scott and White Healthcare community has focused their research resources on the development of an HIV vaccine, stating, “I had always found the statistic that only 25% of infected persons in the United States are on successful drug therapy hard to believe. But the reality of this statistic is what the infectious disease doctors at Scott and White struggle to turn around in their daily treatment of HIV-infected patients. Every person who is not identified for treatment, or who is not compliant in taking their medications, is transmitting the infection as well as slowly losing their immune system and progressing towards AIDS.”
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