HIV vaccine trial to launch in South Africa

30 November 2016 - 13:43
By Sowetan LIVE and Suthentira Govender

Research sites countrywide will launch a major study on Wednesday to test the efficacy of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. The large scale early-stage HIV vaccine clinical trial aims to determine if an investigational HIV vaccine regimen is safe, tolerable and effective at preventing HIV infection among South African adults.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) will conduct the study.

NIAID enrolled 5,400 HIV-uninfected men and women ages 18 to 35 years who are at risk for HIV infection.

All study participants will receive a total of five injections over one year. The volunteers will be randomly assigned to receive either the investigational vaccine regimen or a placebo. The study will end when all participants have completed three years of the vaccination regime.

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This experimental vaccine regimen is based on a trial from Thailand which showed a 31% reduction in HIV after three years.

“For the first time in seven years, the scientific community is embarking on a large-scale clinical trial of an HIV vaccine, the product of years of study and experimentation,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of NIAID

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“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.”

With more than 1000 people in South Africa becoming infected with HIV each day‚ a successful vaccine is seen as key to ending the epidemic.

Professor Gita Ramjee‚ director of the HIV Prevention Research Unit of the Medical Research Council‚ said the launch was momentous for South Africa.

Two participants were expected to receive the vaccine at the Vernham research site outside Durban on Wednesday morning.

According to Ramjee‚ if the HVTN 702 is shown to be effective against new infections‚ this South African trial could lead to the licensing of the world’s first HIV vaccine.

Results are expected in late 2020.

As the global quest for an HIV vaccine continues, Linda-Gail Bekker from The University of Cape Town explains the significance of the latest large-scale trial underway in South Africa:

The world needs an HIV vaccine. Our prevention toolbox is better than it has ever been. But there is increasing recognition that the world needs to scale up primary HIV prevention.

Effective vaccination is the poster child for prevention – it is the thing we are missing. If we can get that we can talk about eliminating HIV across the world.

It is fantastic that once again a vaccine is being put into the field. The only way scientists can really learn and understand human immunity is through human clinical trials. I think everyone agrees that laboratory and animal research can only take us so far.

There has been a decrease in the incidence of HIV in some parts of the world. The best news is the impressive downturn in mother-to-child-transmission.

But this is an epidemic that needs constant surveillance because it is still on the rise in many parts of the world. We cannot be complacent. Reduction rates in adult infections are stalling. We are not on course to meet the targets set for 2030 to get the epidemic under control.

But we shouldn’t hang everything on getting a vaccine, as important as that is. The world also needs a primary prevention revolution. If we are really intent on getting the epidemic under control by 2030, we need a call to prevention action while working hard on a definitive vaccine.