NEW YORK -- A newly discovered vaccine to prevent herpes and lessen its recurrence could be on the market in two years, a British medical researcher said Monday.
Dr. Gordon Skinner, who heads the four-man research team at the University of Birmingham in England, said 300 people who did not have the sexually transmitted disease -- but were at 'great risk of infection' because their partners had herpes -- were given the vaccine for two years.
'In these 300, only two people have actually contracted the infection,' said Skinner.
'We would have expected, of unvaccinated people, somewhere in the order of 100 to get the infection over a one-year period. That's two versus 100 who would have normally gotten it.'
Asked when the vaccine would be on the market, Skinner said: 'I would be disappointed if it were not available between two to three years.'
Skinner, on a visit to New York City to consult with medical experts, noted the two people who got the disease in two years were being compared to unvaccinated people monitored for one year. He said further statistics would show the success rate 'considerably higher.'
Skinner stressed the vaccine, which the team has studied for eight years, is not a 'cure' for the millions of herpes sufferers.
'I would call it a preventative measure and a method of modulating the disease, particularly in patients who have only had one attack.'
Besides preventing people from getting herpes, the vaccine also lessens the number of recurrences in herpes victims, Skinner said.
In a second test, the British team gave the vaccine for one year to 40 people who had experienced a first herpes attack.
'We know that 90 percent of those people would have at least one recurrence in the first year after that attack,' Skinner said.
'However, people who were vaccinated after the very first attack, we found that only 25 percent had recurrences. So we've lowered it from 90 percent to something like 25.'
Skinner could not estimate how much the vaccine would cost, but said 'it should be available to everybody' with the help of government sponsorship, commercial companies and 'a small contribution' from the patient.
But Dr. Peter Sutton, director of the Applied Microbiology Research Center at Porton Down, England, which helped in the studies and would make the vaccine in quantity for clinical trials, cautioned against exaggeration.
'My guess is that it would take three, four, five years before family doctors will be using it,' he said. 'It has to be thoroughly tested and regulated.'
The vaccine consists mainly of virus proteins that stimulate immmunity, Skinner said.
Skinner said there have been no side effects so far.
The next step is large-scale 'double-blind' testing where neither doctors nor patients know whether the vaccine nor another ingredient is being used -- 'for the purposes of eliminating any psychological impact,' Skinner said.