How Close Are We to a Workable HIV Vaccine?

Aug 29, 2019 | AIDS, HIV

How Close Are We to a Workable HIV Vaccine?

Where are we at with the elusive HIV vaccine? Still a ways to go, it would appear, reports SciDevNet. The only answer is an HIV vaccine and developing one has been a challenge.

Cecilia Rosen of SciDevNet reports that although we have achieved significant advancements in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, an actual vaccine remains elusive. One is desperately required to end the global pandemic, taking more than 700,000 lives each year.

TrialSite News summarizes Ms. Rosen’s article. We highly recommend following the link to the source for a comprehensive read.

How many people worldwide live with the disease?

According to WHO, 37.9 million people globally live with the disease—23.3 million have access to antiretroviral therapies (ART), the best available treatment on the market.

How many patients have gained access to ARTs since 2016?

2.3 million—but UNAIDS 2018 warns “the scale-up of access to treatment should not be taken for granted.”

Position of Glenda Gray, president of South African Medical Research Council: Vaccines

“The only way to control or eliminate a disease is with a vaccine. A vaccine will be cheaper than any other intervention and we need one because we are still no closer to controlling HIV.”

Imminent Problems

At least 1.7 million new infections occur annually—160,000 are children under 15 years old.

Larry Corey, principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN)

“HIV is still the pandemic of our time; 5,000 people are infected every day.

Why is it so hard to develop a successful vaccine?

What works for most vaccines, antibodies that neutralize viral infections, doesn’t work for HIV because the virus reproduces and mutates too fast for antibodies to be effective. Moreover, researchers have uncovered that different subtypes of HIV distribute around the world—for example, while subtype B is common in North America and Europe, subtype C prevails in southern and eastern Africa.

Making matters trickier, the virus has the ability to “hide” inside cells that are free of infection, suppressing immune responses at an early stage of the disease. Finally, its genetic diversity is greater than any other pathogen to date.

Current Research Status: Trials and their Promises?

HIV/AIDS researchers have been conducting major clinical research since 2003. Out of the more than 100 vaccines tested in humans, the biggest achievement thus far has been the RV144 trial, also known as the “Thai Study.” The study revealed the first promising results of an experimental vaccine, but the success, reported by Ms. Rosen, was partial as participants were 60% less likely to become infected in the few months after being vaccinated, but this dropped to 50% after 3.5 years. According to Linda-Gail Bekker, the Thai vaccine reinforced that a vaccine can be developed—she noted “We have also now found ways to secure and create antibodies which very effectively bind and neutralize the virus.”  A Phase III modified Thai vaccine study is now occurring in South Africa.

The “Mosaico” Vaccine

Announced at the AIDS Conference in Mexico City, this virus has proven to be effective in tests involving women in Africa and will be further assessed in men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender populations in the US, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Poland, and Spain. It would appear that Mosaico may be the best vaccine to protect animals.

HIV Future

Global charity Avert suggests the biggest reduction in new infections would be achieved by a combination of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), universal antiretroviral treatment for people already living with HIV, and a vaccine. Avert suggests, “An HIV vaccine is a more realistic prospect today than a decade ago and an optimistic forecast of HIV vaccine availability is that one might be available in 2030.”

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