Published: Mon, July 09, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Invented a vaccine against HIV, which has worked on people

Invented a vaccine against HIV, which has worked on people

Study leader Dan Barouch, a Harvard Medical School professor said that the results till now are "promising" but it is best to be "cautious".

Barouch, who is the lead author of the study, also warned, however, "The challenges in the development of an HIV vaccine are unprecedented, and the ability to induce HIV-specific immune responses does not necessarily indicate that a vaccine will protect humans from HIV infection". "This is only the 5th HIV vaccine concept that will be tested for efficacy in humans in the 35+ year history of the global HIV epidemic". With this positive result, the experts involved in the experiment are now moving to the next phase of human trials involving 2,600 women in southern Africa who are at risk of contracting HIV.

This study was funded by Janssen Vaccines & Prevention BV, US National Institutes of Health, Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, Henry M Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, US Department of Defense, and International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

The team created a mosaic-style vaccine by taking parts from different HIV viruses and combining them. While there is still more testing to be done, the treatment has the potential to prevent the infection of HIV.

They found that "all vaccine regimens tested were capable of generating anti-HIV immune responses in healthy individuals", meaning that the study participants built up some kind of protection from the virus. He explained that more data needs to come in from human trials to deem this as safe and protective against HIV infection.

For now, people infected with HIV rely on lifelong virus-suppressing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to stay healthy.

With 1.8 million new cases of human immunodeficiency virus every year, according to United Nations estimates, and nearly 37 million people living with HIV worldwide, the quest for a vaccine has been urgent - and extremely hard.

"How do we make a vaccine that raises immune expenses relevant for all the HIV sequences?" said Barouch.

A parallel study in rhesus monkeys was also performed so that immunogenicity and protective efficacy of the various vaccines could be assessed and the optimal vaccine regimen could be realised to transfer to further clinical studies.

The APPROACH trial recruited 393 healthy, HIV-uninfected adults (aged 18-50 years) from 12 clinics in east Africa, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States of America between February 2015 and October 2015.

While the researchers say these results are a step in the right direction, a new round of testing must occur to prove the drug is effective in staving off the disease in humans.

Most attempts have failed because the virus is able to rapidly mutate, making most vaccines ineffective. A safe and effective preventative vaccine is urgently needed to curb the HIV pandemic.

There has been a four decades long challenge to develop a vaccine against the deadly HIV virus that causes AIDS. Scientists must await the results of this trial find out whether the vaccine cannot only provoke an immune response, but actively protect against HIV.

Buchbinder said that she hoped "to validate our non-human primate model to see if it works for humans and if we see the same correlates of protection".

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