Early HIV vaccine results lead to major trial: researchers

WAAF Team member testing a community member to know status

Durban (South Africa) (AFP) – Promising results from an early safety trial with a potential HIV vaccine have paved the way for a major new study, researchers announced at the International AIDS Conference in Durban on Tuesday.

An 18-month trial with a candidate vaccine dubbed HVTN100 drew on 252 participants at six sites in South Africa, one of the countries hardest-hit by an epidemic that has claimed more than 30 million lives worldwide since the 1980s.

The participants fell within a low-risk category for contracting the sexually-transmitted virus, the researchers said.

The trial cleared a key hurdle in the long, three-phase process to test new drugs. In this early phase, the main point is to assess safety, not efficacy.

“We wanted to see if this vaccine candidate is safe in a South African population and if it is tolerable,” Kathy Mngadi, principal investigator at one of the research sites, explained to AFP.

The team also looked for antibodies signalling that the body’s immune system was responding to the vaccine.

The trial built on the foundations laid by a groundbreaking trial conducted in Thailand in 2009, which yielded the world’s first partially effective vaccine, dubbed RV144.

While hailed as a breakthrough, the effect of the Thai course decreased with time, dropping from 60 percent after one year to 31.2 percent after three-and-a-half years.

“RV144 set us on this journey of hope, but also showed us what we still need to learn and accomplish in this field,” said Fatima Laher, co-chair of the HVTN100 trial.

– Next step –

All the study criteria “were met unequivocally and, in many instances, the HVTN100 outcomes exceeded both our own criteria,” added trial protocol chair Linda-Gail Bekker.

The next phase of the trial, dubbed HVTN702, will kick off in November with the recruitment of 5,400 South African men and women aged between 18 to 25 at high risk of contracting HIV.

People are divided into risk categories through criteria that includes their sexual activity.

“We hope to have results in five years, and it is going to be a very exciting five years for all of us because it is the result of many, many years of hard work,” said Glenda Gray, HVTN Africa programme director.

A fully effective vaccine is still a long way off, she cautioned.

But recent studies have shown that even a partially effective blocker could have a huge impact if rolled out on a large scale.

Some two-and-a-half million people are still becoming infected with HIV every year, according to a new study published on Tuesday, even as drugs have slashed the death rate and virus-carriers live ever longer on anti-retroviral treatment.

While the quest for a cure continues, many view a vaccine as the best hope for stemming new infections.

Larry Corey, principal investigator for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, a publicly-funded international project, said vaccines were barely mentioned the last time the conference was held in Durban some 16 years ago.

“It’s really gratifying now to see how far we’ve come scientifically,” he said.

Last year, billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, who spends millions of dollars on AIDS drug development, said he hoped for an HIV vaccine within a decade, as a cure seems less likely.


More efforts needed to curb HIV-related deaths in Togo


Togo needs to do more efforts to reduce deaths related to HIV/AIDS infection, an official from the country’s health ministry said on Thursday.

Prof. Ahoefa Vovor, the director general for studies, planing and health information from Togo’s health ministry made the remarks during the opening session of a sub-regional training workshop on the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“A particular focus should be placed on psychosocial support which is a very important part of the whole treatment process,” she said, noting that despite the government’s efforts and laws protecting persons living with HIV, the disease still constitutes a major public health problem in the country.

The training workshop was organized through the initiative of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, in collaboration with the Togo Episcopal Conference.

The workshop which is being held between June 18 to 21, brings together 30 pastoral officials from eight African francophone countries who are involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS infection.

The objective of the workshop is to empower facilitators so that they can come up with effective strategies for transmitting the training manual on HIV infection to religious actors.

HIV prevalence rate among Togolese adults was estimated to be 2. 5 percent in 2014, whereas the number of HIV positive people who are on antiretroviral (ARV) medication increased from 17,000 in 2011 to 37,511 in 2014.

The number of children on ARV treatment in 2014 was 2,861 which was 20 percent of the eligible children, whereas the number of pregnant mothers on ARV treatment under the program for elimination of mother-to-child transmission was estimated to be 71 percent.

Source: Spy Ghana