Halford HSV-2 Vaccine Research Highlights

July 20, 2013 |

Since setting up this blog in June 2013, I have received several inquiries about how my research fits into the broader topic of the field of HSV-2 vaccine research.  To address such questions in advance, I provide a brief summary below.

For anyone interested in all the details, a quick visit to PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed) followed by entry of the search term “Halford W” will pull up everything I have published on the topic.

For anyone who wishes to donate to my lab’s research efforts to find a HSV-2 vaccine, I provide the relevant information at the bottom.

– Bill H.


1.  Bill Halford’s 2007 Future Virology Editorial on HSV-2 vaccines:



2.  Karen Carlson’s 2010 Aspects magazine article:



3.  Lachlan Whatmore’s 2010 Diffusion Science radio show interview:


lab geek

4.  Dean Olsen’s 2010 State Journal Register newspaper article:



Anyone interested in making a tax-deductible donation to the Halford Vaccine Research Program may do so by mail, as follows:

Write a check payable to “SIU Foundation” and either in a letter or on the Memo line of the check write “Halford Vaccine Fund,” and mail the check to the following address:

Mrs. Risa Kirkpatrick, Business Administrator
Dept of Microbiology and Immunology
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
P.O. Box 19626
Springfield, IL 62794-9626

These funds will be used solely for the purposes of HSV-2 vaccine research.

Please note that while Online Donations to the SIU Foundation are technically possible, I can only personally assure that donations to the SIU Foundation are properly allocated into the Halford Vaccine Fund if they are mailed directly to my Departmental Business Administrator per the instructions above.

32 Responses to Halford HSV-2 Vaccine Research Highlights

  1. ilbramale December 30, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    Hi Bill,

    Hope you are doing good, no new posts from a long time seems very busy, how u going with your research & funding, I would like to request to people here please donate for this noble cause, Bill any hope for us in near future 2-3 years from now

  2. Pritelivir October 18, 2014 at 6:26 pm #

    Bill – I just noticed on this particular post you wrote HSV2 can be cured and an effective HSV2 vaccine is the most logical and practical way to achieve this goal. That is the answer people are hoping for.

    Please hurry and find investors to fund a clinical trial to make this a reality!

  3. Roger September 5, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    Dear Bill

    I can assure you many infected people would play Russian roulette where if they survive they would be rid of this disease. They would not care about a 0.1% or 2% chance of serious complication..(I know the FDA would ).
    Have you considered crowd funding. I am sure you could get 50 million $ together. You have a track record that goes back to 2007. In two years there would have been too many failed crowd funders- some with bogus research which they are producing right now. .and getting this money together on crowd funding might not be easy anymore.

    People saw in the news with their own eyes how an experimental drug saved Ebola infected people, yet was years from getting released.. because it is life and death situation. Maybe I would rather have Ebola. At least I would have a chance to get cured!

    You could also try and get approval in other countries like UK / Scandinavia etc. The FDA is too careful with this diseases. This disease is different , doctors are terrible at diagnosing it. Standard STD tests do not test for it!!
    Too many people pass it on unknowingly.. Those that know suffer those that are ignorant not…The knowledge comes from the internet not from the doctors!! ( My doc said 99% it is not HSV, I could have passed it to 3 people had I not been so suspect.)

    It is a diseases that is potentially killing economies. In many developed countries 20% to 25% of the women of child bearing age are infected and another 16% to 20% of men in the age of wanting to settle down.. Imagine if just a 1/3 are aware . The number of people in relationships that can no longer enjoy unprotected sex and the number of relationships that are never formed, and the number of people the quit the dating game completely. The first unplanned child that brings two people from a relationship to the wedding alter. How many marriages with children are formed like this that are now gone?
    The number of woman that suffer and are afraid to pass it to a child . Add all these up.. This fear could reduce female birth rates from 1.7 to 1.5!

    It would be easier to find a mate in a country where half the people have it and nobody cares / where doctors tell you that you don’t have it after a single negative swab test, than in a developed country, some of which have laws about having sex with an unknowing partner while carrying this disease. So one gets punished for testing for knowing ! It is a disease about which it can be said that if everyone has it then nobody has it.

  4. AM July 11, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    Have you thought of creating a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for clinical trials? Since there are so many millions of people with HSV in the US alone, if only a percentage of them donated you could raise a good chunk of change. How much do you need in order to go into trials?

    All the best.

  5. Bill Halford July 6, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    Hi Long-Time Sufferer,

    You wrote……….

    “Hi Dr. Bill, I was excited to read your enthusiasm and conviction about a successful approach for HSV-2 vaccine, but when I searched Pubmed for your research, the related titles in the margin were contradictory. There were two (by the same author) which described how for 50 years, attenuated live/dead virus vaccines had failed and dna vaccines were the way to go. I apologize if you’re addressed this elsewhere, but can you explain the discrepancy of earlier live/killed vaccine failures and your success?
    Thanks, -Long time sufferer”
    I reply as follows……..

    What I am saying in this blog is that based on 20+ years of experience studying herpes immunology and herpes simplex virus in animal models, it is my expert opinion that a HSV-2 vaccine is infinitely feasible, but the “HSV-2 vaccine field” has effectively been backing the wrong horse for 30 years by virtue of investing >99% of money put towards HSV-2 vaccines into approaches such as Glaxo Smith Kline’s Herpevac vaccine.

    To be clear, this is my opinion and is not necessarily representative of the views of the hundreds of individual scientists who have contributed to the “HSV-2 vaccine field” over the past 30 years. My explanation for the “discrepancy” you cite is that any author who states that a “live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine” has been developed and meaningfully tested is in my estimation either misinformed or is not telling the whole truth. A traditional “live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine” (that is replication-competent) has not been injected into a single person in the United States in a clinical trial ever. Period. End of sentence.

    If that is the landscape, and we have never actually tested a live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine in a U.S. clinical trial, then clearly we are lacking sufficient evidence to offer the judgment that a live HSV-2 vaccine would not work.

    I note that you refer in your query to an “attenuated live/dead virus vaccine” as though it is a single entity. From a scientific standpoint, this is sort of like asking, “Well, some car experts have offered the opinions that Lamborghinis/Model T’s don’t go very fast. What do you think?”

    What I think is that Lamborghinis are very fast cars, and Model T’s are not and that they should never be separated by a hyphen as though they are remotely similar. Likewise, I think the “HSV-2 vaccine field” is filled with a lot of individuals who are either (1) uninformed or (2) have simply lost sight of the simple, self-evident fact that live-attenuated viruses make fabulous vaccines because they faithfully recapitulate “the look” of the infectious agents we are trying to teach the body to recognize and fight off before they may cause disease……this is how we previously or currently prevented smallpox, yellow fever, poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, rubella, chickenpox, shingles, and rotavirus-induced diarrhea. This is a tried-and-true approach and works well, but the most recent generation of vaccine scientists have bought into a belief system that “live-attenuated virus vaccine” = “killed virus vaccine” = “viral protein subunit vaccine.” That is, any and all of these approaches are interchangeable, and any one may be used to prevent HSV-2 genital herpes.

    From a non-scientific standpoint, my position is that such opinions either reflect the fact that the person offering them is (1) uninformed or (2) simply not the sharpest tack in the box. From a more scientific standpoint, my position is that none of the experimental evidence gathered over the past 50 years supports this position; live-attenuated vaccines consistently outperform other approaches such as “killed vaccines” for theoretical reasons that should be self-evident to any microbiologist / immunologist who really thinks through the details.

    A sampling of the evidence and arguments to support my position that “a live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine” offers superior protection relative to other HSV-2 vaccine approaches may be found here:
    1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24837838
    2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23755244
    3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21412438
    4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23843891

    Long-time sufferer, if there was consensus that what I am saying is true, and the entire HSV-2 vaccine field shared in my thought process, then we would already have a live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine in a U.S. clinical trial. We do have the ACAM-529 vaccine trial, which is a step in the right direction, but which is not truly a “live-attenuated vaccine” because ACAM-529 is a HSV-2 virus that cannot replicate in a vaccine recipient. All of the successful “live-attenuated virus” vaccines I cite above are capable of undergoing viral replication in vaccine recipients, and it is more likely than not that “viral replication” will be required to obtain an optimal HSV-2 vaccine. At a minimum, the scientific community should be considering “Plan B” in case the ACAM-529 vaccine proves to be over-attenuated and incapable of eliciting sustained protection against HSV-2 genital herpes.

    Finally, please allow me to point out that in science, it is quite common for a “great discovery” to emanate from thinking that contradicts the conventional wisdom of the day. A few examples are……

    1) For thousands of years, it was generally believed that the Earth was flat and lay at the center of the universe. The people that offered opinions to the contrary were not greeted kindly in their day….at least one was burned at the stake and the others were viewed as heretics as recently as 400 or 500 years ago.

    2) Heavier-than-air flight was generally viewed as impossible until the Wright Brothers developed the proper wing engineering / shape to make it happen in the early 1900s.

    3) The atom was known to be the smallest / indivisible unit and this assumption was a cornerstone of physics and chemistry until Albert Einstein and other scientists in the late 19th century / early 20th century developed unorthodox views that perhaps atoms could be split to release their energy. The development of atomic bombs and nuclear energy only came about because of this new way of thinking.

    What I am getting at in this long-winded response is that new scientific discoveries and paradigms generally emerge from areas of scientific debate, not consensus. The viewpoint I am offering on this blog that a live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine is (1) infinitely feasible and (2) could be used to immediately start protecting people against HSV-2 genital herpes. While I am aware that this opinion does not reflect the current consensus of the “HSV-2 vaccine field,” nonetheless the available evidence firmly supports the central claims that (1) a traditional live-attenuated HSV-2 vaccine (that is replication-competent) can be made uber-safe and (2) would be ~100-fold more effective in preventing genital herpes than what we have been advancing to U.S. clinical trials for the past 25 years.

    So, no, my opinion does not reflect the consensus beliefs of my colleagues, but rather reflects our best possible approximation of “nature’s truth,” as defined by the available experimental evidence.

    – Bill H.

  6. Dave July 4, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Hi Dr. Bill,
    I was excited to read your enthusiasm and conviction about a successful approach for HSV-2 vaccine, but when I searched Pubmed for your research, the related titles in the margin were contradictory. There were two (by the same author) which described how for 50 years, attenuated live/dead virus vaccines had failed and dna vaccines were the way to go. I apologize if you’re addressed this elsewhere, but can you explain the discrepancy of earlier live/killed vaccine failures and your success?
    -Long time sufferer

  7. Bill Halford December 3, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Hi Anna,

    I would assume that your odds of transmitting HSV-2 to a sexual partner via vaginal sex are lower because your outbreaks occur on your back. However, I think you know what I am about to say……never say never. You would still pose some risk to a sexual partner, as the ganglia that are sending HSV-2 to your lower back / upper buttocks may also send nerve fibers to your vagina.

    Condoms and antiviral drugs are part of the typical package to further reduce your odds of HSV-2 transmission to a partner, but I cannot tell you that there is no risk……just a lower risk because your vaginal region is not the dominant site of your visible outbreaks.

    – Bill H.

  8. Anna November 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    I have had outbreaks only on my lower back, never ever had any sign of it on my genitals…what is the likelihood of transmitting this disease if I receive oral sex or through vaginal sex?

  9. ben November 12, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Thanks Bill. I would still much prefer if rather than a vaccine there might exist some way the body could get rid of the foreign virus DNA within the cells. I don’t know if there is any possible way the body could achieve this? For example I think I read somewhere that there are even cellular defence mechanisms but the viral DNA is able to combat them. I don’t know if by shutting down the HSV DNA’s combat ability it may be possible the cellular defence mechanisms could eliminate it and the infected nerve cell could remain alive?

    Regarding less than 100% effectiveness I think Dr Frazer ( former “Australian of the Year” for work on developing a HPV vaccine which i’m not sure is 100% effective itself ) who is running the Corridon HSV vaccine research here in Australia was once talking about developing a HIV vaccine that would be 50% effective. However like you said I don’t see the point in developing vaccines that might protect you a little bit or make your suffering just a little bit less……

    I guess with the live attenuated virus people may be scared that the attenuation may not work correctly and the virus may actually be fully functional (or even worse) and create a permanent infection. I don’t know if it might help to prove with animal models which have received the attenuated virus that they have not acquired a permanent infection? Have the FDA made any suggestions as to how your vaccine could progress to human trials? Also if you set up a company on the stockmarket for raising funds I would like to know so I could invest in it based on the share price jump in the company set up for the Corridon fund raising ;-)

    I hope there is a cure for HSV soon – many people seem to think it’s not an issue but I think it’s a horrific disease and it depresses me every day. Apparently many people have little or no symptoms ( eg I heard somewhere that people of asian descent have better defence against the virus ) but I get sick with it

  10. Bill Halford November 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Dear Ben,

    Yes, I believe that a HSV-2 vaccine that actually works would effectively be a cure.

    We know that a live HSV-2 vaccine would work at least 100 times better than the Agenus HerpV vaccine, based on side-by-side animal testing of (1) whole viral vaccines versus (2) HSV-2 subunit vaccines. Several studies, including one from my lab, have repeatedly established this simple and important point over the past 5 years.

    The problem lies at the level of human clinical trials. Although HSV-2 subunit vaccines have a very limited capacity to succeed as vaccines, more than 15,000 human subjects have been enrolled in U.S. clinical trials of HSV-2 subunit vaccine approaches. The real number of human subjects screened for HSV-2 subunit vaccine trials has been more than 40,000 people. That is an awful lot of time and money invested in one particular HSV-2 vaccine strategy.

    Now, as I was saying, whole / live HSV-2 viral vaccines are a completely different strategy that works 100 times better than subunit vaccines. If HSV-2 was a person and a HSV-2 subunit vaccine was a cat, what I would be saying is that it is not realistic to expect that a 10 kg cat sitting in HSV-2’s lap is going to be adequate to pin this virus down. However, if we had a vaccine that was 100 times more effective against HSV-2, then that would be like saying, “Why don’t we try parking a 1,000 kg car on HSV-2’s chest and seeing if that slows this thing down a bit.” A 100-fold increase in effectiveness is huge.

    So then the question becomes, “How do whole / live HSV-2 viral vaccines perform in U.S. Clinical Trials?”

    Ben, that’s a great question. My answer is……we don’t know, because we have not injected a single human subject in a U.S. Clinical Trial of a whole / live HSV-2 vaccine at any point in the past 40 years. Rumor has it in the world of science that it is very hard to discover the answer to questions that we never ask and/or never test.

    Yes, HSV-2 genital herpes can be cured, and an effective HSV-2 vaccine is the most logical / practical way to achieve this goal. However, we need to start testing HSV-2 vaccines that work as best as can possibly be expected, as opposed to focusing on ideas like the HerpV vaccine are folly, and probably elicit about 1/1000th of the protective immunity against HSV-2 that is possible.

    Runners can’t win races when you bind their legs with rope, and vaccine scientists cannot cure HSV-2 genital herpes when we let the FDA run the show and eliminate live / whole viral HSV-2 vaccines as an option because they are “too dangerous.” The flaw in this reasoning is that about 10 to 20 million people per year are in the same boat as “Just diagnosed” (who posted a comment on the blog this afternoon) and continue to contract a disease-causing HSV-2 infection that they are stuck with for life. To sit around and talk about the HerpV vaccine and a “15% reduction in HSV-2 shedding” is to continue wasting valuable time. Every day we waste talking about the HerpV vaccine (that does not work) translates into another day that 40,000 people worldwide will contract HSV-2 genital herpes with no hope for either a (1) preventative HSV-2 vaccine or (2) a real therapeutic HSV-2 vaccine.

    We deployed a whole / live herpesviral vaccine in 1994 or 1995 in the United States to prevent chickenpox, and today in 2013 I am only a few years away from lecturing to a class of medical students who will look at me like a relic for even suggesting they should waste time learning about a disease of the past like “chickenpox;” I already get this look from most U.S. medical students when I teach them about smallpox and poliomyelitis. Chickenpox is in the process of becoming a vaccine-preventable disease of the past because nearly 20 years ago, the U.S. made a concrete step in the right direction of deploying a whole / live varicella-zoster viral vaccine that actually works. It is infinitely possible to achieve the same type of vaccine-mediated victory over HSV-2 genital herpes, but to achieve this goal we need to shift our focus from HerpV and such “molecular HSV-2 vaccines” that sound fancy but which are hopelessly ineffective. I believe that our time and money would be better invested in bringing HSV-2 vaccines that actually work to human clinical trials.

    As I indicated in my recent blog post, the HSV-2 ACAM-529 (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2013/Pages/HSV11-8-13.aspx) is a concrete step in the right direction. It’s about bloody time that the NIH put some money behind a HSV-2 vaccine that actually has some scientific substance, and is not just another sales pitch!

    – Bill H.

  11. ben November 12, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Dear Bill, I was wondering if rather than developing a vaccine, anybody might be working on a cure? However I guess a cure would be far less lucrative. For example here in Australia they are completing stage 1 human trials for the Corridon herpes vaccine and shares in the company that is funding the research have jumped from 1 cent to 17 cents in a few months on the basis of a few press releases so I guess some people are already making lots of money!

    I almost feel like I don’t mind the failure of herpes vaccines to date because I would rather people were working on a cure – to me it seems like the vaccines cannot guarantee you won’t be permanently infected by herpes as there is a chance it could slip past your immune response so their main purpose is therapeutic with reduced outbreaks

    Does a cure seem a possibility to you? Is it possible the virus could be destroyed in the nerve cells which carry it? Or is it possible the nerve cells which carry it can be killed? ( I don’t know if its possible for nerve cells to die and grow back. Sorry about my extreme scientific ignorance!

  12. JR September 21, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Good questions Bill. The man does not respond to valtrex or famvir. He has been on both episodically and for supression and neither has helped with the duration or stop the legions from coming. In addition to the basic viral culture (that has a higher false negative rate), he has also done viral PCR swabs (that are more accurate). This is in addition to all the serology tests. It seems the viral culture could be negative a few times but not time after time after time, especially when the man presents the doctor with a legion on his lip or genital and they squeeze the weaping fluid and scape the sore within 1-2 days of the legion being present on the skin. It just doesn’t make sense. As I said this case has caught the attention of the researchers using Deep Sequencing ViroChip and they have agreed to take it on if the medical provider can work with them to send a sample and it is approved through their IRB. However, as an expert in the field the man is looking for any other thoughts you may have.