HIV vaccine trial begins in South Africa

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A new vaccine against HIV, the virus that causes Aids, is being tested in South Africa in what scientists say is the first large study of an HIV vaccine’s effectiveness since 2009.

The study, called HVTN 702, involves a new version of the only HIV vaccine candidate ever shown to provide some protection against the virus. HVTN 702 aims to enroll 5,400 men and women, making it the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people become infected with HIV every day.

 

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About seven million people in South Africa are living with the virus, which is one reason why the trial is taking place there.

 

“If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health and a co-funder of the trial. “Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection, such as South Africa.”

 

The vaccine regime being tested is based on one used in a trial in Thailand in 2009, which had a protection rate of about 30%. Results from South Africa are expected in four years.

 

Since the HIV virus was identified in 1983, efforts to develop an effective vaccine have proved unsuccessful.

Researchers hope that this might come to an end with the current study, which is code-named HVTN 702.

The experimental vaccine regimen tested in the Thai trial was found to be 31.2 percent effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5-year follow-up after vaccination. In the HVTN 702 study, the design, schedule and components of the RV144 vaccine regimen have been modified in an attempt to increase the magnitude and duration of vaccine-elicited protective immune responses.

According to the United Nations, more than 30 million people have died from Aids since the 1980s.

Recent breakthroughs in anti-retroviral treatments have improved the lifespan of Aids patients.

However, the only effective prevention remains abstinence or the use of barrier methods such as condoms during sexual intercourse.

Participants who become infected with HIV during the trial will be referred to local medical providers for care and treatment, NIH adds.

The experimental vaccine regimen tested in the Thai trial was found to be 31.2 percent effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5-year follow-up after vaccination. In the HVTN 702 study, the design, schedule and components of the RV144 vaccine regimen have been modified in an attempt to increase the magnitude and duration of vaccine-elicited protective immune responses.

 

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