New HIV vaccine in South Africa to be trailed on 5,400 volunteers

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A new vaccine to prevent HIV is set to be trailed in South Africa later this year since it met the criteria needed to prove it could help fight the epidemic in Africa. 2.1 million new infections of AIDS were reported in 2015 alone, two-thirds of which were in sub-Saharan, Africa. A trial known as HVTN100 took place in South Africa in order to test the strength of immunity that the vaccine could provide. 52 volunteers were enrolled to receive the vaccine (ALVAC-HIV/gp120) or a placebo in order to compare the immune response generated. The results were presented at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

“This was precautionary to see if the vaccine looks promising,” said deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre in Cape Town, South Africa Linda Gail-Bekker. Gail-Bekker is also the and president-elect of the International AIDS Society. “We’ve inserted specific inserts from viruses that have come off the subcontinent. It gives the tick on all four, it does look promising, and it should launch. We wanted to see a particular immune picture that would suggest that a big efficacy trial would be likely to yield results,”

The vaccine comes from a landmark trial in Thailand. In 2009, it was the first to show protection against HIV, with 31% success. The vaccine was then improved for higher-risk use in sub-Saharan Africa, where a different type of the virus exists. The vaccine trial is testing the level of T-cell and antibody response from the volunteer. Since the criteria were met, a larger scale trial of the vaccine will now begin. It will incorporate 5,400 people across four locations in South Africa. It will begin in November 2016 and run for three years. A fifth dose of the vaccine will also be given to volunteers in the hope of longer-lasting protection. The Thai study showed that 60% protection against HIV was achieved within a year.

“We’re hoping this can be the first licensable vaccine regimen in the world,” said Gail-Bekker. “I don’t think we are going to treat [our] way out of this epidemic. We are ultimately going to need a vaccine to shut it down.”

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