New HIV vac­cine trial starts in SA

CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MAPUMULO zinhle.mapumulo@city­

South Africa has been se­lected to host an­other HIV vac­cine trial, which will tar­get var­i­ous strains of the HI virus. The new trial, known as HVTN705, will be launched in the next few months.

Kathy Mngadi, the co-chair of the HVTN705 study and a se­nior Cen­tre for the Aids Pro­gramme of Re­search in SA sci­en­tist, said: “[The cur­rent trial of] HVTN702 is a study test­ing a vac­cine that is aimed at pro­tect­ing women and men [par­tic­u­larly] against the sub­type C HI virus preva­lent in south­ern African pop­u­la­tions. The new HVTN705 study is a mo­saic vac­cine aimed at pro­tect­ing peo­ple against the di­verse strains and clades [sub­types] of HIV-1 found in dif­fer­ent geo­graphic re­gions.”

It will be tested on 2 600 HIV-neg­a­tive women be­tween the ages of 18 and 35 who are at risk of HIV in­fec­tion. It is ex­pected to be­gin lo­cally in Oc­to­ber and will only reach out to other sub-Sa­ha­ran African coun­tries in Jan­uary. The vac­cine trial in 15 sites across the coun­try be­gan in De­cem­ber.

Mngadi said it would not be a prob­lem to test both vac­cines si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­cause these trials, al­though re­lated, were dif­fer­ent.

“The vac­cines [should] lead to dif­fer­ent im­mune re­sponses. In vac­cine re­search, we can­not put all of our eggs in one bas­ket, so we are test­ing many dif­fer­ent types of vac­cines.

“That way, if one ap­proach fails, we have an­other to work with. If both work, we know which one is bet­ter to take for­ward.

“En­rol­ment [of vol­un­teers] in HVTN702 has to be com­plete be­fore a South African site re­cruits vol­un­teers for the new HVTN705 study. En­rol­ments of study par­tic­i­pants in the two trials will be un­der­taken in­de­pen­dently,” Mngadi ex­plained.

South Africa’s epi­demic re­mains one of the largest in the world and the coun­try also ex­pe­ri­ences a higher num­ber of newly ac­quired in­fec­tions, which oc­cur dur­ing un­pro­tected het­ero­sex­ual in­ter­course. Cur­rently, it is es­ti­mated that more than 7 mil­lion South Africans are liv­ing with HIV.

Mngadi said the need for sci­en­tists to find a vac­cine was not just to help South Africans, but for ev­ery­one around the world. She said that, de­spite an ef­fec­tive an­tiretro­vi­ral ther­apy pro­gramme, it was im­por­tant to find an ef­fec­tive vac­cine. In eastern and south­ern Africa, it is es­ti­mated that there were 19 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing with HIV in 2015 and about 1 mil­lion new HIV in­fec­tions in the same year.

“It is un­likely that we will be able to treat our way out of this epi­demic,” she said.

Mngadi added that other vac­cines had suc­ceeded in erad­i­cat­ing viruses such as small pox, demon­strat­ing a vac­cine’s power. Cur­rent ef­fi­cacy trials in South Africa are sched­uled to end all data collection by 2020, which will be fol­lowed by a pe­riod of data clean­ing and anal­y­sis, be­fore re­sults can be de­ter­mined.

“For vac­cine field re­searchers, this is a very promis­ing time­line,” Mngadi said, adding that reg­u­la­tors would then thor­oughly re­view a suc­cess­ful vac­cine – a process that will de­ter­mine the time­line to li­cense the vac­cine be­fore mak­ing it avail­able to the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion “through gov­ern­men­tal sup­port for a roll-out pro­gramme”.

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