Thursday, November 8, 2007

Did U.S. Pharmaceutical Tacitly Admit to Spreading HIV?

A few days ago I was reading the Wall Street Journal (WSJ online) and was stunned to see this title "Canceled Vaccine May Have Boosted HIV Risk", wow! Am I actually reading this right? If you know "The Journal" these guys don't publish anything remotely salacious about any large U.S. company, unless it's pretty much fact, so this is freaking big, but I had to read the article to really see is there a story here. Guess what people, there is - and I think it's an eye-opener. Naturally given the topic, deciphering this complex piece won’t be easy since a Doctor or Research Scientist I am not. However fortunately for us the Journal’s short exposé was written absent of a lot of scientific jargon, and filled with interesting tidbits. If you prefer to read the actual unbiased Journal article (sorry you can’t), nah here’s the link , but if you trust my literary prowess free of influence, slightly opinionated, and rife with New York scarcasim then read on. So the gist of the piece in the Journal is something like this:

Last week (November 7th) in Seattle at a HIV scientific conference (HVTN), Merck, one of the largest U.S. Pharmaceuticals, and it’s scientist disclosed that it recently had to halt Clinical trials of a new "experimental" HIV VACCINE after they realize that not only was the vaccine NOT preventing those inoculated from getting HIV, but actually making it easier. That’s right, essentially those in the Trial group that received the Placebo ( or NO Vaccine) instead of the Vaccine were less likely to contract HIV.

Here are the Facts of the Trials:

1. All participants were men.

2. All participants were HIV-negative at the start of the trial

3. Merck conducted two Trials. A 3,000 participant trial conducted in selective countries, and a 2nd Trial in South Africa.

4. For the Non-South African Study, the Placebo group was larger than the vaccinated group, but more participants in vaccinated group contracted HIV [ 49 versus 33 HIV cases ].

5. The vaccine was synthesized into a cold virus called an Adenovirus [man made], which is also being used now (by NIH) to come up with an experimental Ebola vaccine.

6. Merck had been working on the HIV vaccine for almost a decade.

Given that brief amount of insight you may be asking why do I think this so important or news worthy? Easy, it’s HIV, still probably the nightmare of most adults on this planet, which last time I checked still causes that dreadful disease AIDs, and oh yeah, is highly contagious. Bravo to Merck, they were nice enough to stop the Trials, before vaccinating more men with this Adenovirus, but excluding those in the South African Trials (since their numbers are mysteriously unknown) 914 men were already injected with this experimental Adenovirus, and amazingly, freely allowed to co-mingle in society. That’s what’s so disconcerting I think, because although the Scientist were somewhat forthcoming in providing specific data as to the number of vaccinated participants who contracted HIV (49), they gave NO such statistics on potential innocent victims who may have been subsequently infected by these Participants, and the logical multiplicative impact caused by the disease. After all the highly controversial and potentially dangerous experimental Trial was conducted on participants (“Control Group”) for several years, who freely flourished in “open” societies. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to conclude that these 49 people possibly passed on HIV to others. Some Merck sympathizers or cynics may say 49 people is ridiculously small relative to the entire population in these countries, and I won’t debate that, but a HIV carrier isn’t like a Bee, they don’t get to infect one person then die. Given that all the participants are male, and the study was conducted over a few years, the implications are seriously obvious, since studies show women are less significant transmitters of HIV relative to men. Other critics say that they would’ve contracted HIV anyway, since the vaccine doesn’t work, but that’s a flawed argument, given that Merck’s scientist admitted there’s a strong likelihood the vaccine made HIV contraction easier.

One of the first things I quickly wanted to know was, where in the world did Merck try this experimental Vaccine? Well according to the article Merck conducted the flawed Trials in North and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, and South Africa. Surprisingly no testing in Europe, not a prick, or is my geography off a bit, and wow! I love Merck’s specifics. I’m being sarcastic of course, because as I alluded to before the Scientist provided little, if any details whatsoever pertaining to any of the HIV Vaccine Trials, particularly the South Africa Study. Merck gave no information as to where in the U.S. the participants were concentrated, no data on what Countries, Cities or Communities the vaccinated participants were from, and no figures as to the racial or demographic make-up of the Control Group. Additionally Merck was even more restrictive regarding the South African Trial. Very little is known publicly about number of participants in the Study, how many men were injected with the Adenovirus, and how many subsequently developed HIV. I would say all this is rather suspicious. Everyone knows South Africa has the highest rate per capita of HIV infections worldwide, with HIV reaching pandemic proportions, but no one knows why it’s so. In twenty years South Africa has gone from being one of the least infected nations to the most, creating a society distrustful of modern medicine, and its own government. I would argue that something is amiss there, that can’t be a natural phenomenon. I am Not saying that Merck has anything to do with the current HIV epidemic in South Africa, but Merck owes everyone involve a better response. All Merck would divulge is that after they cancel the Vaccine Trials they informed all Participants what they were given (either Placebo or HIV Vaccine), and those that weren’t told can easily ask. I think the public has got a right to know.

Well what about this Adenovirus, the natural question amongst other things is, can it be transmitted? I figured I’d check an independent source such as and see what they had to say about Adenoviruses. As usual Wiki had a lot to say, much of which I honest completely didn’t understand, but here’s what I did see that I think is quite relevant and plainly understood:

a. An Adenovirus is essentially a virus that’s manifested in the form of an infection of which they are dozens of different type’s common to humans, such as: Common Cold, Strep Throat, Ear Infection, Tonsillitis, UTI, Bronchitis, Pneumonia, Conjunctivitis, Viral Meningitis, and Encephalitis to name the most known ones.

b. No antibiotics exist to combat an Adenovirus type infection, only symptoms are treated.

c. It’s primarily spread via respiratory droplets, and some Adenoviruses often can survive for prolong periods outside of the body.

However according to the article Merck doesn’t believe its man-made Adenovirus vaccine can be contagious since it genetically modified the virus to render it incapable of causing a Cold or infection. Ok, I’ll put my cynicism and skepticism aside and absolutely take their word for it, since it would be stupid of me to even consider for a second that the best scientific minds in the world would risk transforming HIV into an airborne virus or would they? Nah, that’s a debate for another day, besides I don’t think the U.S government would return to the years of creating Level-4 Biological Viruses as potential weapons. Even that would be too far fetch to conceive no matter that the Trials were partially sponsored by the Feds themselves via NIH. What’s rather interesting though is the article did point out that NIH was at the time using the same Adenovirus to develop a vaccine against Ebola, a virulent known Level-4 virus. A conspiracy theorist I am not, but they’re plenty of question abound as you can see.

Again I want to reiterate I am not alleging that Merck did anything suspect in these HIV trials, and in general should be commended for their efforts in pursuing a HIV Vaccine, but the lack of detail information and transparency is obviously highly suspect and warrants a serious investigation. As an anecdotal comment, I would’ve resist the temptation to write this Blog if the business community, particularly Wall Street wasn’t so euphoric about Merck’s legal settlement over Vioxx, and dismissive of the participants in this fail Study. Now the Vioxx settlement and Merck’s announcement of the cancel Trials were purely coincidental in timing. However emphasis on Merck being sufficiently legally protected from potential litigation as a result of the Trials, the perceive lack of sympathy in general towards any of the vaccinated participants, and the joy expressed by investors of Merck avoiding billions in legal lawsuits was a juxtaposition to difficult to ignore.