Novel HIV vaccine candidate induces immune responses in humans, monkeys

Almost 80 million people are estimated to have been infected since the virus was first diagnosed in the early 1980s

Almost 80 million people are estimated to have been infected since the virus was first diagnosed in the early 1980s

Scientists could be one step closer to developing a vaccine for HIV, after a jab triggered an immune responses in humans and protected monkeys from the virus.

"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", he explains.

An accompanying editorial by George N. Pavlakis, MD, and Barbara K. Felber, PhD, both of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, discussed this approach, stating that it "defines an additional path for exploring the development of an effective HIV vaccine".

HIV has infected around 80 million people worldwide since it was first detected in the 1980's. Currently, around 37 million people are living with HIV/Aids across the world: levels that amount to a pandemic. This vaccine is one of the five experimental HIV-1 vaccine concepts that reached such a success in nearly 40 years of HIV pandemic.

These people were healthy and considered at low risk of HIV-1 infection (the most common strain of the HIV virus). The volunteers were also injected with the common-cold virus to boost their immune system once at the start of the trial and again 12 weeks later into the study. In a parallel study in rhesus monkeys infected with a HIV-like virus called SHIV, the mosaic vaccine offered 67 percent protection.

The participants, from the US, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, and Thailand, received four vaccinations over the course of 48 weeks. The aim is to trigger immune responses against a wide variety of HIV strains, according to authors of the study published Friday in The Lancet medical journal.

Now it is to move on to the next stage of human clinical trials wherein it would be tested on 2,600 women in southern Africa to check if it prevents HIV infection in them.

Dr. Dan H. Barouch, a lead researcher on the study and a professor at Harvard Medical School, said he was "pleased" with the results but that they should still be treated with caution.

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All the new vaccine combinations showed to be safe, and produced the anti HIV response.

Only one vaccine has ever shown evidence of protecting against HIV.

Despite the relatively good results from the human and animal trials, the researchers are careful not to be too confident in the potential vaccine.

Dr Brady added that in the meantime there were already tools that were effective for preventing the disease from spreading, such as contraception and treatments for HIV-positive people that prevent them from passing on the virus. To date, the "mosaic" is one among the only five experimental HIV vaccines that have proceeded to efficacy human trials.

While the results so far have been encouraging, the research team and outside experts warn there are no guarantees it will actually work in the next trial phase dubbed HVTN705 or "Imbokodo" - this is Zulu word for "rock".

"We have been here before, with promising candidate vaccines that haven't panned out", he told AFP.

Unlike other viruses, such as smallpox, there is substantial variability between HIV viruses: even in one individual. This immune response could protect the humans from the infection.

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