After more than forty years of struggling with AIDS, there is still no vaccine to prevent HIV virus infection in humans. Although there have been notable developments in the past none of them resulted in the successful creation of an HIV vaccine, safe and fit for humans. Not anymore, because the research team from Oxford University has just started the first-ever clinical trials to test the efficacy of this vaccine and the response of the human immune system.
With more than 38 million HIV patients globally struggling for their lives, there is a dire need for a vaccine to prevent the infection in the first place. Ideally, a vaccine should activate the immune system and make it kill the virus before it starts invading the machinery and initiate an infection.
The phase 1 trial of a novel HIV vaccine candidate is named “HIV-CORE 0052” and will evaluate the vaccine tolerability, protection, and immunogenicity. This vaccine is named the ‘HIVconsvX vaccine” with a mosaic vaccine that acts upon a number of viral variants, making it helpful against almost all HIV strains that cause infections in humans. These variants sometimes vary as per geographic regions but having a vaccine that provides protection against all of them is ideal.
Under this HIV vaccine trial, 13 candidates between the ages 18 and 65 will receive this vaccine. None of these candidates are at risk of AIDs and are selected after a complete evaluation of their medical records. After receiving the first dose, they will be monitored for four weeks, after which they will be provided with the second dose.
This phase 1 trial is conducted under the European Aids Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020), that is an international project collaborated and funded by the research and innovation grant under the European Commission Horizon 2020.
Tomáš Hanke, an expert of vaccine immunology from the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, is leading this vaccine trial. According to him, there was a continuous struggle to develop an effective and safe vaccine for HIV in the last 40 years. But this current vaccine is the first one that has made it to the human trials. Through a series of trials conducted on HIV-negative and positive individuals, the research team will find out how it may help in preventing the disease or make it more manageable to live with it.
Like most vaccines, this HIV vaccine is expected to work by triggering the antibody response from the B-cells of the human immune system. The vaccine, HIVconsvX activates this immune response, and targets it towards a vulnerable region of the HIV virus that is called the “Achilles heel”. Interestingly, this region is a part of almost all common HIV variants which is why this vaccine is expected to protect against all HIV strains.
According to medical experts, it is very hard to protect the body against the HIV virus. But again, it is not impassible and this trial is trying to do the same. Right now the treatment for HIV patients only targets behavioral therapies and biomedical interventions including male circumcision (with consent), educating safe sex methods, using anti-retroviral medicines, and others.