First-in-human clinical trial confirms new HIV vaccine approach

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  • After decades of research, there is groundbreaking potential for an HIV vaccine
  • This new approach is aimed at the immune system in the production of broadly neutralizing antibodies
  • This approach has opened opportunities for vaccine development against other viruses as well

After decades of searching for an HIV vaccine, a scientist has finally made a breakthrough with a new approach to developing a vaccine against the virus. The findings of the trial were presented at the International AIDS Society HIV Research for Prevention conference.

Promising results 

The phase one clinical vaccine trial is an International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Scripps Research project.

The vaccine candidate stimulated production of rare immune cells needed to start the process of generating broadly neutralising antibodies, and 97% of 48 participants who received the vaccine candidate showed the desired response.

“With our many collaborators on the study team, we showed that vaccines can be designed to stimulate rare immune cells with specific properties, and this targeted stimulation can be very efficient in humans.

"We believe this approach will be key to making an HIV vaccine and possibly important for making vaccines against other pathogens,” says Prof William Schief, an immunologist at Scripps Research and executive director of vaccine design at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center in a statement.

In the next part of the vaccine development, IAVI and Scripps Research will be partnering with the biotechnology company Moderna to develop and test an mRNA-based vaccine to produce the same beneficial immune cells. Using mRNA technology could significantly accelerate the pace of HIV vaccine development, the researchers say.

“Given the urgent need for an HIV vaccine to rein in the global epidemic, we think these results will have broad implications for HIV vaccine researchers as they decide which scientific directions to pursue.

"The collaboration among individuals and institutions that made this important and exceptionally complex clinical trial so successful will be tremendously enabling to accelerate future HIV vaccine research,” says Dr Mark Feinberg, the president and CEO of IAVI.

Potential of vaccine approach not limited to HIV

Researchers say that this approach to vaccine development is not exclusive to HIV, but has the potential of creating vaccines for viruses like influenza.

“These results are the confirmation in humans of a vaccine approach know as germline targeting. We think they will likely have broad implications not only for HIV vaccine research, but also for vaccines for other pathogens such as influenza virus,” Schief says.

READ| HIV prevention pill available at 36% of public healthcare facilities, says Health Department

READ| OPINION | Covid-19 vaccines do not make women infertile

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