HIV vaccine near ready: Report

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A novel vaccine that generates antibodies against HIV has passed its first trial as scientists edge closer to developing a breakthrough antidote against the fatal virus, Europe Pharmaceutical Review (EPR) reports.

It has been 50 years since the first HIV-related death was recorded, though the outbreak of the sexually transmitted virus became public knowledge in 1981. Yet, scientists have failed to come up with an accurate cure or vaccine to prevent one from contracting it.

As of March 2019, Nigeria has a national HIV prevalence of 1.4 per cent among adults aged between 15-49, per a USAIDS report which cited a survey by the Nigerian government. Statista, a data research organisation, said that 1.8 million Nigerians were living with HIV as of 2019.

Citing a study by IAVI and Scripps Research, EPR, in the report published in February, disclosed that the vaccine which was administered to 48 adult volunteers stimulated the creation of the rare immune cells needed to generate antibodies against HIV in 97 per cent of the participants.

The volunteers were administered either a placebo or two doses of the vaccine compound, eOD-GT8 60mer, along with an adjuvant developed by the GlaxoSmithKline, the report said.

In the EPR report, the vaccine developed to act as an immune primer triggers the activation of naïve B cells via a process called germline-targeting, as the first stage in a multi-step vaccine regimen to elicit the production of many different types of broadly neutralising antibodies (bnAbs).

Presenting the result at the International AIDS Society HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) virtual conference in February, William Schief, a professor and immunologist at Scripps Research said the study demonstrated a proof of principle for a new vaccine concept.

“This study demonstrates proof of principle for a new vaccine concept for HIV, a concept that could be applied to other pathogens as well. 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,” Mr Schief said.

Speaking on the success of the first trial, Julie McElrath, a senior vice president and director of Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, described the trial as a landmark study in the HIV vaccine field.

With over 38 million people living globally with the virus, HIV is among the most difficult viruses to target with a vaccine, due to its abnormally fast transformation rate which allows it to constantly evolve and evade the immune system.

According to the EPR, the study gives room for additional clinical trials that will seek to refine and extend the approach, with the long-term goal of creating a safe and effective HIV vaccine.