New HIV Vaccine Begins Phase 1 Trials at Oxford

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HIV vaccine
Source: istock

This past week researchers administered the first dose of a new HIV vaccine undergoing phase 1 clinical trials at the University of Oxford.

Since its discovery in the 1980s, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has claimed over 36 million lives. The virus targets one’s immune system resulting in a weakened defense against infections and cancers. Some people can develop fever, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, bacterial infections, and cancers. Whereas others progress to the advanced stage called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Although there is no cure for the disease, science has made quite progress in developing effective vaccines and experimental treatments for the disease. Now, researchers at the University of Oxford are conducting phase 1 clinical trials for a new HIV vaccine called HIVconsvX.

An effective HIV vaccine has been elusive for 40 years. This trial is the first in a series of evaluations of this novel vaccine strategy in both HIV-negative individuals for prevention and in people living with HIV for a cure.

Tomáš Hanke, lead researcher

The Phase 1 trial, also called HIV-CORE 0052, aims to evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness, safety, and how well the participants tolerate the side effects. The trial is being conducted as part of the European Aids Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020). Researchers initially plan to administer the vaccine to 13 healthy, HIV-negative adults. Aged 18-65years, the volunteers will first receive one dose and then a booster dose four weeks later.

Targeting the ‘Achilles Heel’

Previously, HIV vaccines worked by inducing the body’s B-cells to produce antibodies targeting the virus. However, the HIVconsvX works by inducing the T-cells. These cells can obliterate the virus-infected cells. Researchers administer the vaccine and target these cells to the vulnerable regions of HIV; an area they called the ‘Achilles heel’ of the virus.

Achieving protection against HIV is extremely challenging and it is important that we harness the protective potential of both the antibody and T cell arms of the immune system

Dr Paola Cicconi, Trial Chief Investigator

Current HIV prevention strategies focus on safe-sex practices, male circumcision, and the use of anti-retroviral drugs. However, the team at Oxford believes that an HIV vaccine remains the best solution for ending the AIDS epidemic. The researchers are now planning on conducting a similar trial in Africa, Europe, and the US.

Reference: University of Oxford

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