HIV vaccine could be available in SA by 2019

2014-10-28 15:55

Preparatory work is well underway to license an HIV vaccine in South Africa.

If all goes well, in terms of the follow-up trials set to begin in January until 2017, the vaccine could be available for general use by 2019.

The vaccine will be similar to the RV144 vaccine which made headlines across the world in 2009 when it showed that it could protect against HIV infection by up to 31% when tested in Thailand.

The only difference with the vaccine to be tested from next year is that it will have an added protein that will target the HIV strain prevalent in South Africa.

This exciting news was revealed by Professor Glenda Gray of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network in South Africa at the HIV Research for Prevention conference currently taking place in Cape Town until Friday.

Gray said she was excited about the prospects of licensing this much-needed vaccine in the country where one in five South Africans are HIV-positive.

She and her team conducted a trial in Soweto, Klerksdorp and Cape Town last year to test whether South Africans would have the same immune response to RV144 as that witnessed in Thailand.

The reason for testing the immune response instead of how effective the vaccine is in preventing HIV infection was that physiological aspects like gender, age, ethnicity and body mass index often affect how different people respond to vaccines.

Women, for instance, respond better to vaccines than men while obese and heavy drinkers don’t respond well.

Speaking ahead of releasing the findings of the South African trial (which will happen tomorrow), Gray said the immune response of South Africans was as good if not better as that of the Thai despite the ethnicity and high levels of obesity in the 100 people that participated in the local study.

She said: “This is very unusual and it gave us courage to move forward and develop the target profile which we have presented to the Medicines Control Council of South Africa.”

MMC is responsible for the approval and registration of medicines for use in South Africa. It also ensures that clinical trials of both non-registered medicines and new indications of registered medicines comply with the necessary requirements for safety, quality and efficacy.

Gray said the MCC has given them a go-ahead to skip phase two of the trials and go straight to phase three where they will test the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Two hundred people between the ages of 18 and 44 are expected to participate in the efficacy study which will begin in January. They will be given a vaccine similar to the one tested in the Thai and South African trial.

The difference with the new vaccine, said Gray, “is that it would contain a different protein which will target the HIV strain that is prevalent in South Africa”.

“The vaccine that was used in our previous trial was targeted at strains E and B which are prevalent in Thailand. The vaccine that we will test next year will be targeted at the C strain which is prevalent in South Africa so that we maximise the effect,” she explained.

Gray also mentioned that while the efficacy of the Thai study was moderated, at 31% after three years, South Africa was willing to license the vaccine even if the new trial showed an efficacy of 50%.

“We usually roll out partially effective interventions in HIV. We did the same with medical male circumcision (which showed a 60% reduction in the risk of HIV acquisition in men) and the same was done on prevention of mother to child transmission which was not 100% effective in the beginning,” she added.

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