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HIV Vaccine Awareness Day

Posted on May 18th, 2021 by in Pharma R&D

The global focus on the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines over the past year has been a reminder that there are still many other diseases for which the world has long sought a vaccine. Since 1998, May 18 has been observed as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (also known as World AIDS Vaccine Day) by advocates, healthcare professionals, and communities dedicated to HIV prevention and vaccine research, with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) often taking the lead in its observance. HIV Vaccine Awareness Day provides a good opportunity for vaccine developers to provide updates on research efforts with articles, webinars, and special events.

Approximately 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. Much progress on the treatment of the disease has been made over the years, but hundreds of thousands of people still die every year from AIDS-related illnesses, underlining how badly a vaccine is needed. Though other vaccines have been overshadowed by Covid this year, the fact is that scientists are still working hard to help eradicate HIV and there have been some positive developments on the vaccine front. 

IAVI G001 study

Earlier this year, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Scripps Research announced that some promising results had emerged from a phase 1 clinical trial testing a novel approach.

In a press release, they stated that, β€œThe vaccine showed success in stimulating production of rare immune cells needed to start the process of generating antibodies against the fast-mutating virus; the targeted response was detected in 97 percent of participants who received the vaccine.”

More clinical trials will be forthcoming to further develop the approach, with an eye towards creating a vaccine in the long term. Learn more about the details of this study here

The mRNA approach

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 demonstrated the successful use of an messenger RNA (mRNA) approach, and it appears that this may bode well for an HIV vaccine as well. Dr. Peng Zhang of NIAID is collaborating with Moderna on an mRNA approach that has so far shown some efficacy in protecting monkeys against an HIV-like virus (find out more).

International large-scale vaccine studies

Janssen is working with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network and the NIAID on a large study called Mosaico, which aims to prove the effectiveness of an experimental vaccine regimen. The study is casting a wide net across North America, Latin America and Europe and expects to include 3800 participants.

Another large Janssen study, Imbokodo, is focused on preventing HIV infection in women in sub-Saharan Africa. This study is testing the safety and efficacy of a combination of two experimental vaccines, Ad26.Mos4.HIV (Ad26 vaccine) and Clade C gp140 (protein vaccine).

More investment is needed

β€œIt’s critical to acknowledge that COVID vaccines exist because of decades of investments and advances in HIV vaccine research,” wrote Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, recently for Science Speaks. β€œHIV vaccine researchers and research networks led the scientific effort; HIV funding networks, scientific collaborations and clinical trial infrastructure sped COVID vaccine development; years of effort by HIV researchers to understand human immune responses guided the effort; vaccine platforms such as mRNA and Adeno26, developed and advanced through HIV vaccine studies, were repurposed for COVID prevention; and community advocates provided the expertise that helped enroll massive clinical trials and guide COVID vaccines through global regulatory processes.”

Essentially, investment in a vaccine for one disease is investment in vaccines for all diseases. Previous vaccine research set the stage for the success of COVID-19 vaccines, and now it is vital to take the energy that went into the Covid effort, along with the insights gained from it, and put them back towards HIV vaccine research. The world has been waiting decades for an HIV vaccine, and researchers are eager to deliver – this is a great opportunity for the global community to embrace the challenge and invest the funds and resources needed to at last bring an HIV vaccine to fruition.

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