William Halford, a former Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University teamed up with a Hollywood film writer to run an offshore experimental herpes vaccine trial. He injected human subjects at local hotels near campus as well as in the Caribbean between 2013 and 2016. Southern Illinois is now facing questions from patients, the public, and Congress as to his unorthodox practices.
In the spring of 2016, twenty American and British patients flew to St. Kitts and Nevis as part of the herpes vaccine trial, aware of the risks that came with the experiment. In fact, William Halford openly acknowledged that he was dismissing FDA regulations in the consent forms they signed. Patients would be injected with a live and weak herpes virus without U.S. safety oversight. One patient claimed that "it felt like paradise...or therapy combined with vacation;" only to later experience dreadful side effects and renewed outbreak.
Halford died of nasal cancer last June, leaving Southern Illinois to deal with many unanswered questions. Halford had managed to launch the trial without "approval from an institutional review board overseeing research on human subjects." In 2013, prior to the Caribbean islands trial, Halford had injected at least eight patients at hotels near campus, including a Holiday Inn Express. According to Inside Higher Ed, "Halford apparently believed in the vaccine so much that he'd been injecting himself, too, even though he did not have herpes."
"This came upon us really unexpectedly," said Jerry Kruse, Dean and Provost of SIU's School of Medicine. Last December, SIU's ethics panel launched a "full investigation "of the herpes vaccine trial; including a close investigation of "members of his research team." The school maintains that it bears no responsibility for the experiments and that he had "conducted his research on human subjects independently in the Caribbean in 2016 with Rational Vaccines, a company he co-founded with Hollywood filmmaker," Agustín Fernández III. SIU shares the vaccine patent with Halford yet, said it learned of "the concerns" only after his death. Furthermore, Rational Vaccines received millions of dollars in private investment from tech billionaire Peter Thiel, which some say made the research “sufficiently high-profile for the university."
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