UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial to participate in HIV vaccine trials

March 22, 2001

WORCESTER, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts Medical School, in conjunction with its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Medical Center, was recently selected to participate in a multi-center trial of an experimental HIV vaccine that has sparked great interest in AIDS researchers. A product of one of the largest pre-clinical vaccine research programs in the history of pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., Inc., the vaccine has been shown to prevent laboratory monkeys exposed to a virulent strain of HIV from getting sick.

While the vaccine is primarily designed to prevent uninfected people from contracting HIV, the company says it also wants to test whether the vaccine can be used to treat people already infected with the AIDS virus, an experimental concept that is attracting much scientific interest.

At UMMS, the two-year trial, which seeks healthy volunteers to show that the vaccine stimulates an immune response in the body, will be directed by Shan Lu, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine. Dr. Lu is hoping to draw interested participants from a wide region.

"It's important to note that we are not going to expose healthy volunteers to the AIDS virus in this trial," stressed Dr. Lu. "Instead, we'll focus on the safety of the vaccine itself and we'll see what effect the vaccine has in regards to stimulating human immune responses." If the multi-center trials indicate that the vaccine is safe and stimulates killer T-cells in humans, then Merck will develop additional larger human trials to prove efficacy of the vaccine.

Although Merck & Co. will not yet discuss details of the vaccine's progress, the company confirms that it presented its data in two closed-door sessions last month, one to the AIDS Vaccine Advisory Committee of the National Institutes of Health and another to leading AIDS activists. The company is expected to release further information as the trials progress.

UMass Medical School was designated in 1998 as one of the nation's Centers for AIDS Research and as such is an important resource for the advancement of AIDS-related research, facilitating interdisciplinary and international collaborations, technology transfer through academic-industry collaborations, research dissemination activity, and community outreach. UMMS has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. Extramural research funding for the Medical School totals approximately $107 million, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. Based on funding from the National Institutes of Health, UMMS ranks second out of 10 northeastern public medical schools, and fourth among 30 medical schools founded since 1965. Nationally, UMMS ranks 44th among 125 U.S. medical schools. In FY 1997 and 1998, UMMS experienced the highest rate of growth in NIH funding among the top 50 research medical schools in the U.S.

The Medical School's clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, is the largest health care system in central Massachusetts, with 1,700 physicians and over 10,000 employees. Its comprehensive network of care includes teaching hospitals, community hospitals, outpatient clinics, community-based physician practices, long-term care facilities, and home health, hospice, rehabilitation and mental health services.

Readers who have questions on the trial should call Karen Longtine RN, research coordinator, at (508) 856-6970.