A HIV-infected T cell | Photo: NIAID/Wikimedia Commons
A vaccine targeting multiple strains of HIV is going into late-stage testing in the US and Europe later this year, but HIV experts have expressed ‘optimistic caution.’
Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is gearing up to test a new type of vaccine against HIV, according to Bloomberg.
Although, some HIV prevention advocates have highlighted the continued importance of current treatments — PrEP and condoms — in the road to ending HIV.
What does the trial involve?
The Mosaico study will see more than 3,800 men who have sex with men given a series of injections that the company hope will stop people from acquiring HIV.
Participants will receive six shots over four sessions, Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Bloomberg.
Moreover, he added that two thirds of animals given the vaccine developed immunity to HIV.
The US agency and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network of testing sites will collaborate with J&J’s Janssen unit for the effort.
What makes this vaccine different?
Previous attempts at a vaccine have tended to focus on a single strain of the virus.
But the J&J vaccine is a different approach towards HIV and AIDS. One that works to respond to multiple strains of the rapidly changing virus.
The approach ‘brings us one step closer to covering the vast diversity of viruses worldwide,’ said Dan Barouch. The Harvard Medical School professor’s work was fundamental in the vaccine’s fruition.
He told Bloomberg: ‘For medical and global public health reasons, it’s better to have a vaccine that works in multiple parts of the world.’
Along with the computational biologist Bette Korber, the pair created a set of ‘mosaic’ proteins that are aimed at boosting the immune defense against strains.
The vaccine uses a cold virus that is altered to make the proteins that raise immunity.
‘Conceptually, it’s an interesting idea,’ Fauci said.
‘There’s always excitement, but it should be saved for the results.’
Could we end HIV by 2030?
Matthew Hodson, HIV prevention advocate and executive director of NAM, told Gay Star News how he welcomed news of J&J’s vaccine with ‘cautious optimism.’
Hodson stressed that the animal trials ‘offered some but not complete protection against HIV.
‘Seeing how effective it is for humans is crucial, if it offers only partial protection that may create new challenges.’
He added: ‘Although there are many obstacles yet to clear, if we are able to add new tools to our strategies for combination prevention (treatment as prevention, PrEP and condoms) it will speed our progress to ending HIV.
‘I believe that with the necessary resource and commitment, we can end HIV by 2030.’
‘This injection is still some way off’
Greg Owen, co-founder of I Want PrEP Now, told Gay Star News that a vaccine is still far off. He called for an increased focus on testing and improved access to PrEP, a vital pill that reduces the chance of acquiring HIV.
‘The option of a single monthly injection offers the potential to further transform the lives of people living with HIV and show that living with the virus does not define anyone,’ he said.
‘However, this injection is still some way off and it’s important to emphasize that current treatment allows people to live long and healthy lives with HIV.
‘The UK Government has committed to ending new HIV transmissions by 2030 in England. Yet there remains around 8,000 people living with HIV and undiagnosed.
‘That’s why stepping up HIV testing, providing access to condoms and getting people onto HIV treatment is so important.
‘There must be urgent action taken to provide proper access to anti-HIV drug PrEP, which remains a missing part of the HIV prevention toolkit in England.’