ATLANTA, Ga. --- One of the keys to HIV/AIDS prevention, or possibly even a cure, may very well be sleeping in frozen quiescence in a small freezer in a hidden corner of a non-descript one-story building in Smyrna.
The GeoVax lab is not what you might expect of a biotech company that is literally leading the world in a race that could save millions of lives.
But that's exactly what it's doing.
Their vaccine, which is already in its second generation, has shown tremendous success in non-human trials.
"We're preventing infection to the extent that we're reducing infection by 90-percent which is very good," said Harriet Robinson, the Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder of GeoVax. "I certainly hope that we also do that in humans; but we'll have to do the human trials to know."
And some of those human trials are already underway in Atlanta, as well as Los Angeles and the University of Alabama. Its focus is to see how the vaccine works in people who've recently been infected with HIV.
The next trial will involve prevention in healthy subjects who are at risk of exposure to the virus.
"When that starts, that will be the first time a vaccine will be protecting a subgroup of the population that might come in contact with the virus," said Robert McNally, the President and CEO of GeoVax.
With a tiny staff of 13, GeoVax is at the head of the pack in the global search for a vaccine, which may be a cheaper more reliable alternative to pill therapy like Truvada.
"After you've had your inoculations, you'll be protected. You don't have to remember to take your drugs daily," said Robinson.
Like GeoVax, Truvada also has roots at Emory University. And the researchers here believe the pill will help lower the HIV exposure rate for the first time in 20 years. The infection rate has stabilized over that time to about 55-thousand new cases in the U.S. each year.
But the National Institutes of Health has even higher hopes for the GeoVax vaccine.
"They're actually saying they're looking for a cure; we get excited about that," smiled McNally. "Here, you're going to combine a vaccine along with a standard of care, which are the oral meds that are commonly given. And through that combination, what the NIH is hoping to do is... maybe there's a possibility we can eradicate the virus in people that are infected."