HIV Vaccine Candidate Imbokodo Advances into Phase 2 Study

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. AAP

The near 40-year quest for an Aids vaccine received a hopeful boost on Saturday (July 7) when scientists announced that a trial drug triggered an immune response in humans and shielded monkeys from infection. The experimental regimens tested in this study are based on "mosaic" vaccines that take pieces of different HIV viruses and combine them to elicit immune responses against a wide variety of HIV strains.

It also protected some monkeys from a virus that is similar to HIV.

Since it is a huge discovery so the researcher needs more testing to determine if the immune response produced can prevent HIV infection in people.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS estimated that there were about 36.7 million people who were living with HIV worldwide at the end of 2016. "We have to acknowledge that developing an HIV vaccine is an unprecedented challenge, and we will not know for sure whether this vaccine will protect humans", said study co-author Dr. Dan H. Barouch, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research.

There are about 1.8 million new infections and a million deaths every year.

Susan Buchbinder, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, one of the co-chairs of the ongoing phase IIb efficacy trial for this vaccine, explained that the results of the non-human primate study were used to help select the most appropriate candidate for the vaccine in humans.

The Ad26/Ad26 plus gp140 vaccine candidate induced the greatest immune responses in humans and also provided the best protection in monkeys, resulting in complete protection against infection of SHIV, a virus similar to HIV that infects monkeys, in two-thirds of the vaccinated animals. The vaccine containing "mosaic" HIV Env/Gag/Pol antigens was created from many HIV strains, delivered using a nonreplicating common-cold virus (Ad26). The study, published yesterday, was conducted on about 400 HIV-negative adults from the United States, Thailand, East Africa, and South Africa, but also on 72 lab monkeys. 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.

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"We're cautiously optimistic but we need to be cautious in our interpretation of the data", Barouch told Newsweek. Thus, an HIV vaccine is needed badly.

"I can not emphasise how badly we need to have a get rid of HIV in the next generation altogether", said Francois Venter of the University of the Witwatersrand Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in South Africa.

The most effective version, given to 12 monkeys, managed to provide protection to 8 of them, while the other 4 eventually became infected.

It is still too early to speculate that it would work with 100 percent success say the researchers but they are hopeful.

3d rendered HIV Virus in Blood Stream in color background.

In the near four decades since the start of the Aids crisis, this is only the fifth experimental vaccine that has progressed to a stage where it can be tested on humans. "But the data is promising and we are happy to report the immune response".

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