A step toward developing the first oral AIDS vaccine was taken yesterday at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, as a volunteer gulped two cups of liquid. One held a buffer to neutralize his stomach acids; the other a solution designed by United Biomedical Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y.
The trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is small: Thirty volunteers, at Hopkins and the University of Rochester, will receive either the vaccine or a placebo. Volunteers are still needed.
The study will gauge the side effects of the vaccine. In about two years, if all goes well, a much larger study will determine whether the drug effectively protects people against the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.
All other experimental AIDS vaccines have been administered by injection, said Dr. John Lambert, clinical director of Hopkins' AIDS vaccine studies. And they stimulate antibodies only in the blood. But HIV is usually sexually transmitted, via mucus membranes, he said. And scientists hope that an oral vaccine will produce an immune response "where it counts" -- in those membranes.
The volunteer, Greg Neumann, was reminded not to engage in high-risk behavior. The vaccine won't infect him because it is made of synthetic protein, not the real virus.
Said Mr. Neumann, a researcher in Hopkins' Earth and Planetary Sciences Department: "Friends of mine have had friends die of AIDS, and this is one little thing I can do."