Yong Kang has played a role in developing vaccines for polio and hepatitis B. Now, the University of Western Ontario researcher has earned approval from the U.S. government to start human clinical trials on what could be a breakthrough vaccination for HIV.
The vaccine —named SAV001 — is the result of nearly 20 years’ work at Western labs.
Kang, a molecular virologist, started studying the way HIV reproduces after landing in London during the early 1990s. About 10 years ago, he turned his focus toward developing a vaccine — something he thought would be relatively simple.
“Turns out, it was a very challenging problem,” he said.
With the first of three trial phases set to begin in January, Kang’s product could be on the market in as little as five years. His vaccine goes at the whole virus instead of attacking bits and pieces, which is how vaccines in previous HIV trials worked.
The vaccine — billed by Western as the only HIV vaccine being developed in Canada — will be produced at plants in Maryland and Colorado with funding from Sumagen. The Korean-based pharmaceutical company established its Canadian headquarters at Western’s research park in 2008 and has pumped about $50 million into Kang’s research.
If the vaccine earns approval for distribution, Kang hopes it can be produced in Canada. Right now, he said, Canada doesn’t have a plant that meets the biosafety requirement.
Kang, who also is developing a treatment for hepatitis C, was grinning from ear-to-ear on Tuesday as the upcoming trials were announced at UWO.
While HIV has been his key subject for many years, he said there is no one thing that drew him to the disease, except maybe the number of people it affects.
“I like to save lives,” he said. “I think we can save millions.”