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Vaccine Candidate Targeting Dendritic Cells Enters Clinical Trial

Scientists at Rockefeller University in New York City began testing a novel AIDS vaccine candidate in July that specifically targets dendritic cells, specialized cells of the immune system that can scoop up HIV proteins that are included in the vaccine candidate and present them to other immune cells such as CD4+ T cells and B cells, thereby helping to trigger an immune response against HIV.

The vaccine candidate contains an antibody, engineered to recognize a protein found on the surface of dendritic cells, fused to an HIV protein. The three-year, randomized, placebo-controlled, Phase I trial, known as DCVax-001, will enroll 45 healthy HIV-uninfected volunteers in New York City. Investigators will evaluate both the safety of the candidate as well as its ability to induce immune responses against HIV at three different doses. This is the first time a dendritic cell-focused approach is being tested as a preventive HIV vaccine candidate.

The vaccine candidate is also being administered along with a fixed dose of an experimental adjuvant called Poly ICLC (Hiltonol), which was designed to augment the immune responses induced by the candidate. Volunteers will receive three injections of either the vaccine candidate or placebo over 12 weeks, and will then be monitored for 12 months. —Regina McEnery