First HIV Vaccine Trial in 7 Years Set for Africa

     (CN) — The first large-scale clinical trial of an HIV vaccine in seven years is scheduled to begin in South Africa, the National Institutes of Health said Wednesday.
     Preliminary results show that the vaccine is safe and produces an immune response.
     HIV’s rapid mutations have made it difficult to develop a vaccine since the early 1980s, when the virus was first recognized as an international health threat.
     “A safe and effective HIV vaccine could help bring about a durable end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and is particularly needed in southern Africa, where HIV is more pervasive than anywhere else in the world,” Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said in a statement.
     The trial — which still needs regulatory approval — is scheduled to begin in November 2016 and include 5,400 uninfected men and women. Participants will be given five shots of either the vaccine or a placebo.
     Results of the trial should be released by 2020, the NIH said.
     The vaccine is based on the only previous one that demonstrated effectiveness, which was developed in Thailand in 2009.
     The 2009 Thai study included a two-vaccine combination that reduced the risk of HIV infection by 31 percent over about three years, but was most effective the first year.
     The NIH said the vaccine used in South Africa will be modified for enhanced protection. A smaller safety trial of the modified shots in South Africa was promising enough for a larger follow-up study, the organization said.
     The vaccine has also been adapted to the HIV subtype that’s most common in southern Africa.
     Announcement of the trial came on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.
     “While we are making encouraging progress in preventing new HIV infections, the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine would be the ultimate game-changer,” Fauci said.
     In a separate study, a team led by scientists from the NIH discovered a new HIV vaccine target after finding vulnerability within the virus and a broadly neutralizing antibody that can bind to the target site.
     The researchers were also learned how the antibody specifically stops the virus from infecting a cell.
     The vulnerable part of the virus is the fusion peptide, a string of eight amino acids that enables HIV to infect a cell.
     The study’s results were published May 12 in the journal Science.
     “Advances in HIV/AIDS research have given us the opportunity to transform the lives of those living with HIV while providing highly effective methods of preventing the infection,” Fauci said. “This progress has strengthened optimism for achieving a durable end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”

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