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AIDS AT 25

His Work Toward a Vaccine Never Ends

Aids At 25

June 05, 2006|Jia-Rui Chong | NEW YORK

Dr. David Ho, 53, pioneered the development of the three-drug cocktail that has led to the dramatic decline of AIDS deaths in the United States and elsewhere. He is director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York.

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NEW YORK -- The schedule for today is packed.

Ho has back-to-back meetings on using a new virus to deliver vaccines into cells, a bird flu vaccine, two experimental AIDS vaccines and research projects in China.

Senior researcher Yaoxing Huang is the first to arrive in Ho's office. They brainstorm about using a modified adenovirus, a kind of cold bug, to spark the body's defenses against the AIDS virus.

They're worried that some patients in Africa and Asia, where the adenovirus is common, may be immune. Their bodies would destroy the adenovirus before it could help. With genetic manipulation, they think they can get around that obstacle and adapt it to ferrying vaccines for other diseases, including flu and malaria.

But "HIV is the hardest one," Huang says.

"It always is," Ho agrees.

For five years, Ho's research groups have been working on vaccines that could prevent AIDS. The preliminary human safety tests on two, ADVAX and ADMVA, just ended. Now the researchers want to do some follow-up testing of the combined vaccines.

Nothing is simple.

Drs. Sarah Schlesinger and Sandhya Vasan, two researchers at Aaron Diamond, are worried that they're running low on ADMVA. Then there are the volunteers. Some are older than 45, the upper limit approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the trial.

That afternoon, Ho switches gears. He is working to increase AIDS awareness in China and has enlisted Houston Rockets basketball center Yao Ming for a public service poster. Feedback from a focus group of high school students in China isn't good.

As the day wears on, everything seems to have moved forward about a nanometer. Huang will continue fiddling with the adenovirus. Ho will lobby the FDA to allow older volunteers. The Chinese will start over on the Yao poster.

Near the end of the day, Schlesinger asks Ho whether he has seen the latest New York magazine, which lists him among the 100 most influential New Yorkers.

"It said ADMVA was approved by the FDA," she says, knowing that the vaccine was approved only for a preliminary trial.

"Is it true you've cured HIV?" Vasan says, needling her boss.

"You're all out of a job," Ho replies with a laugh.

Back in his office, Ho packs up his things for the day. The work will go on and on. "I'm looking at a long road ahead of me," he says.

Jia-Rui Chong

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