Clinical trials underway for HIV vaccine candidate

HIV Vaccine

Researchers are conducting clinical trials for a HIV vaccine candidate based on the mRNA technology used to produce some of the Covid-19 vaccines.

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Researchers in the United States are studying an HIV vaccine candidate that uses the same technology as some of the Covid-19 vaccines.

The first phase of the clinical trials involves 56 HIV-negative people and is being conducted by the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and drugmaker Moderna.

The participants will be monitored for safety and immune response by Moderna for about six months after the last vaccination.

Speaking to IAVI Medical Director Vincent Muturi-Kioi yesterday, he explained that there will be two vaccine doses administered eight weeks apart. The vaccine will use the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology used in Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines.

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing in this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform,” said IAVI’s chief executive Mark Feinberg in a press statement.

“The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging, and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine.

“This platform offers a nimbler and responsive approach to vaccine design and testing, potentially shaving off years from typical vaccine development timelines.”

IAVI and its partner considered the mRNA technology for a number of reasons.

“Using mRNA for vaccines allows for faster production of vaccine material ... With conventional approaches, it can take years to advance a promising idea in the lab into a vaccine candidate that can be evaluated in humans. Using mRNA vaccine technology can reduce that time from several years to several months,” explained Dr Muturi-Kioi

Before the mRNA platform was considered, Dr William Schief, professor at Scripps Research and executive director of vaccine design at IAVI’s Neutralising Antibody Centre (NAC), and colleagues, had come up with a protein-based version of the HIV vaccine antigens. The new collaboration with Moderna will now see an advanced version of the first one incorporating the mRNA technology.

Dr Muturi-Kioi told the Nation that IAVI and its collaborators believe that the most promising new HIV vaccine approaches are those intended to induce broadly neutralising antibodies,which was not a goal for earlier trials.

“We are hopeful that this new direction we and others are taking, enabled by sophisticated science and the participation of the research community and trial volunteers, will eventually get us to a goal of an effective, safe HIV vaccine for global use. Still, given the complexity of the challenges of HIV, we will not see the same kinds of rapid development times that led to Covid-19 vaccines,” he explained.

No clinical trial of an HIV vaccine has been successful so far.