For the first time in 10 years, the HIV vaccine reaches the final testing phase
Worldwide, about 37 million people live with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV. Many countries offer treatment for prevention and for people who already live with viruses. However, there is no vaccine for this.
HIV is extremely agile in terms of its mutation and can change to the point of becoming unrecognizable. As a result, many efforts to produce a vaccine ended up being limited.
Fortunately, for the first time in 10 years, an HIV vaccine prototype has reached its last stage of clinical trials, known as phase 3. After that, it must be determined whether it protects against virus transmission, which, when not tract, causes AIDS.
The vaccine was developed by Janssen and used the same technology that the pharmaceutical company used for its vaccine against COVID-19, which is an adenovirus modified to transport the DNA of its most representative proteins into people’s cells. This causes the body to create antibodies against them.
In reality, there are two vaccines. One encoded with three proteins, and one with four. These two vaccines outperformed safety studies. And it was seen that they create antibodies. Now, what remains to be seen is whether they will work under real conditions.
According to Antonio Fernández, a Janssen researcher, this phase 3 clinical trial will last between 24 and 36 months. In that time, the permanence and intensity of protection will be checked.
The attempt before that, for an HIV vaccine, ended in 2009. The end came after it was seen that it only prevented 30% of infections.
One of the doctors who will participate in the test, and started recruiting volunteers, is José Moltó, from the Foundation for the Fight Against AIDS (FLSida, in the acronym in Spanish) in Barcelona. He says that this delay in developing an HIV vaccine is because it has enormous variability.
“When pressed by the cells of the immune system, it changes its external appearance and escapes,” he explained.
This new vaccine targets different variants of proteins. This makes it more difficult for it to escape the action of the antibodies created. This is similar, but on another level, like what happened with antiviral treatments 25 years ago. They started to be effective when several of them were combined and managed to interrupt the virus replication cycle at different points.
Current treatments are successful. And they make sure that, with just one pill a day, the virus is kept under control. And that it is so reduced that the infected person cannot pass it on to another. As good as they are, they also slowed down recent research for a vaccine.
According to Ramón Espacio, president of the Spanish State Coordination for HIV and AIDS (Cesida), “if the vaccine is found to work with one or two doses and to be immunized for life or five years, it will be more comfortable and more applicable to the population of poor countries. “
“You can get a lower cost than treatments. And it can be easier to administer than trusting people in places where even drinking water is lacking to take a pill daily,” concluded Fernández.