Mining majors show support for HIV vaccine

Seven global mining companies have joined the consortium led by BHP Billiton to fund the first emerging-country trials of Virax’s VIR201 HIV/AIDS therapeutic vaccine, to take place in South Africa. Virax’s Chairman, Dr Tom Quirk, released the current list of corporate participants in the South African trial at Virax’s annual general meeting on November 27, 2006.

The consortium now includes:

BHP Billiton, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold Mining, Lonmin, Mitsubishi Materials, Nippon Mining and Metals, Sumitomo Metal Mining, Rio Tinto

In an innovative drug development strategy, Virax has formed a South African non-profit organization for corporate donors with significant operations and interests in South Africa and other African countries where HIV/AIDS is endemic, to provide funding for a phase I/IIa trial in an emerging country environment. In effect, this has seen the formation of a global coalition of corporations to fight AIDS with contributions from four nations – Australia, Japan, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

CEO David Beames commented, “We are seeing a far-sighted and open-minded response to an extremely critical health situation in Africa from some of the world’s great mining and metal companies. BHP Billiton has been a stalwart cornerstone participant and we are now delighted that seven other companies have become involved. Although our funding task is not yet complete, we are confident that the calibre of the current participants will help attract further South African corporate donors.”

The proposed trial will involve 140 HIV positive subjects in five well-established HIV clinics across four provinces in South Africa. Virax has lodged a clinical trial application with the South African Medicines Control Council to conduct the trial.

The project will be non-dilutive to Virax, which is to contribute its intellectual property. The international contract research organization (CRO), Quintiles, will implement the trial and provide project management in South Africa under Virax’s management control. Dr Des Martin, Immediate Past President, Southern African HIVClinicians Society, will formally supervise the trial as National Principal Investigator.

VIR201 is the only therapeutic vaccine based on stimulating the immune system known to have shown a positive effect in suppressing virus levels in HIV infected patients in fully controlled, gold standard, clinical trials.

The devastating impact of HIV on African society, both culturally and economically has been well documented.  Existing highly active anti-retroviral treatments have significantly reduced the toll of this disease in Australia, the US and Europe. These drugs are alreadyproviding some benefit in parts of Africa, but will not provide more than a partial solution for emerging countries. Not only is the cost of anti-retroviral treatment prohibitive for widespread distribution in Africa, but the resource-limited medical infrastructure is unable to support the comprehensive programmes required to control the HIV pandemic. Furthermore, the effects of anti-retroviral treatment are not well tolerated by people in situations where poor nutritional status and lack of access to clean water is often accompanied by other disease burdens like TB or malaria. Virax hopes to achieve full funding for the project in early 2007.

Headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, Virax is a biotechnology company engaged in the development of some of the world’s most promising treatments for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer, hepatitis B and other infectious and autoimmune diseases. Virax’s focus is on technology that underpins the development of immune-based therapies (immunotherapy) – therapies that use biological signals to direct the immune system to treat disease.