Monday, 7 July 2003

Ouagadougou (Fides Service) – A paediatric anti AIDS vaccine in preparation for Africa is being tested and Fides Service spoke about the initiative with Father Jacques Simpore, consultor general of the Camillian Fathers, molecule genetics expert, Ph.D., member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and presently working in Africa on the UNESCO programme Families First Africa.

Father Simpore you teach at the university of Ouagadougou. What is your activity? What are the main difficulties you encounter?
I am in Burkina Faso to prepare the basic research stage of an anti AIDS paediatric vaccine promoted by UNESCO and financed by the Italian government. My activities are varied but first of all I am a priest and a religious. In the scientific field I am a professor of genetic engineering at Ouagadougou university UFR/SVT and director of the San Camillo laboratory of bio-medics and bio-molecule research in Ouagadougou. I collaborate with the World Health Organisation and UNESCO as well as research institutions in my own country. The challenges we face are many but our hope and our faith lie in Christ who called us to follow him.

Tell us about the paediatric anti AIDS vaccine in preparation for Africa?
Clinical testing on human beings requires several stages to obtain reliable results; clinical testing must not endanger human life. We must be sure about the innocuity, effectiveness and immunity of the vaccine produced before we move from basic research to the clinical stage. Moreover there must be global political agreement in the country and acceptance of the research protocol on the part of the ethics committee of the country in question. So we have a pre-clinical stage in the laboratory consisting of basic research followed by a clinical stage.
For the antiHIV paediatric vaccine the pre-clinical stage has already been concluded in Italy and in the United States. The government of Burkina has signed the agreement of acceptance of the research project. Now, in agreement with the Ethics Committee of Burkina Faso, we will carry out research on the genetic background of the HLA system of the people in Burkina and the genetic characterisation of the HIV sub-types which circulate in Burkina Faso. This research will be undertaken at the San Camillo Medical Centre in Ouagadougou and in Italy at a research laboratory directed by Professor Vittorio Coalizzi. This basic research will take six months. It will be followed by the clinical stage during which we will vaccinate healthy HIV negative adults in Rome, Baltimore and Ouagadougou. The final stage will be vaccination of children born to HIV positive mothers who have followed the PTMC protocol (Prevention of HIV vertical transmission mother/child) using nevirapina.

You are personally involved in this project can you tell us more about the different stages?
Today no one can have encyclopaedic knowledge as in the past. Today everyone specialises in a certain field. In this research we work in complementary synergy. The project is the development of the UNESCO paediatric vaccine with the objective of stimulating immunity response in the new born child in the very first days of life, preventing the radication of the virus during breastfeeding. The UNESCO paediatric vaccine is given on the same day and same place as the BCG anti TB vaccine. In fact the UNESCO paediatric vaccine exploits the adjunctive characteristics of the BCG to induce a strong response to HIV. This means that protection against the transmission of HIV through breastfeeding in induced at a very early stage of infection, when the new born child’s immunity system is still intact with a high degree of maturing development.
The UNESCO paediatric vaccine project has three stages:
1) Basic laboratory research to identify sequence of synthetic peptides which make up the vaccine.
2) Clinical testing in stage one of healthy volunteer adults to document vaccine’s total security and non alteration of the BCG induced anti TB response. This testing will be carried out in the United States at Baltimore, in Italy in Rome and in Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou on healthy adults with a limited risk of natural infection by HIV
3) Clinical testing of stage one on new born infants of HIV positive mothers, to confirm and document complete innocuity and absence of toxicity of the UNESCO paediatric vaccine. This testing will be carried out in Burkina Faso at the San Camillo Hospital in Ouagadougou.
Will this really be an opportunity to save many lives?
From the outset human life is a battle against pathogen micro-organisms. Biologically these microbes have often defeated human species. But culturally, especially in recent years, mankind has taken over destroying these germs. Small pox, meningitis, tuberculosis, the plague…have not been completely eliminated but we are no longer afflicted by them as before. The elaborated UNESCO paediatric vaccine may not work properly because of HIV’s great genetic variability, but the study process will produce an important experience of research. Consequently we will be able to elaborate schemas for other more suitable vaccines, always taking into account the genetic background of the HLA system of the different peoples.
Despite these difficulties in research, our hope grows. We are ever more certain that the day will come when synergetic efforts by our researchers will allow us to eliminate for ever, many disease, hereditary illnesses and AIDS for the benefit of humanity and the glory of God.
AP (Fides Service 7/7/2003 EM lines 76 Words: 971)