Three potential HIV vaccines developed by Moderna have entered clinical trials, US medical research agency the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced.
Around 108 HIV-negative Americans will take part in the Phase 1 trial to evaluate the three vaccine candidates.
The participants, spread across ten US cities, will get three doses to test the effectiveness of each one.
The experimental vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. Moderna previously used the technology in its highly effective COVID-19 vaccine.
The mRNA vaccine works by introducing mRNA, a piece of genetic material, into the body to teach it to make a protein fragment of a target pathogen, such as a virus.
The immune system recognises and remembers the fragment, so it can mount a strong immune response if it’s later exposed to the real pathogen.
In this trial, the three HIV vaccine candidates are designed to present different but related spike proteins found on HIV.
Those proteins are what allows the virus to enter human cells. But the three mRNA vaccine candidates can’t cause HIV infection in the recipients.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is sponsoring the study.
NIAID director Dr Anthony Fauci explained, “Finding an HIV vaccine has proven to be a daunting scientific challenge.”
“With the success of safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, we have an exciting opportunity to learn whether mRNA technology can achieve similar results against HIV infection.”
NIAID expects to complete the clinical trial of the HIV vaccines by July 2023.
Previous HIV vaccine candidates sadly weren’t successful
Even after decades of research, no successful HIV vaccine has ever emerged. While several candidates have made it to clinical trials, they all failed in later stages.
Thanks to major medical advances, HIV is now a manageable chronic disease.
For people living with HIV, modern medication reduces viral load to a level so low the virus is “undetectable”. This means they can no longer be transmit HIV to their sexual partners.
Also, HIV negative people at risk of contracting the virus can take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to dramatically lower their risk of infection.
In both cases, researchers have made recent advances in long-acting injectables to replace daily pill regimens.
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