New HIV vaccine trial to start in South Africa

Dr. Bekker is deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town and chief operating officer of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa.

Already, 5,400 sexually active men and women aged 18 to 35 who do not have HIV have been enrolled for the trials and results are expected in 2020.

A new clinical trial is underway in South Africa on an experimental vaccine that could safely prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

But researchers in constant search for a vaccine, think they could have better success in South Africa because of a number of modifications.

"The results obtained in Thailand are not good enough for a roll-out (...) we have set the minimum bar at 50 percent" lower risk, Lynn Morris, head of the HIV virology section at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Disease (NICD), told AFP. "HIV has taken a devastating toll in South Africa, but now we begin a scientific exploration that could hold great promise for our country", said Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council.

The candidate is made up of one experimental vaccine each supplied by Sanofi Pasteur and GlaxoSmithKline, combined with a GSK-supplied adjuvant called MF59. The participants will be randomly assigned to either receive the actual vaccine or just a placebo. The first participant of the new trial was enrolled on October 26, and the results of the clinical trial are expected in 2020.

Scientists in Johannesburg are basing the current trial on research from a similar 2009 study done in Thailand that showed HVTN 702 was 31.2% effective at preventing HIV infection over 3.5 years.

Fauci claims that even a moderately effective vaccine will have a significant effect in reducing the numbers of HIV infections. Each will receive five injections over the course of the year and then be monitored for two years.

The HVTN 702 vaccine is a combination of two experimental vaccines, ALVAC-HIV and a two-component gp120 protein sub-unit vaccine.

Subjects for the new HIV vaccine trial are volunteers. The routine stock-out of the AIDS medication can be blamed, but the fact is that the HIV virus is slowly getting resistant, so that a vaccine cure is the only holy grail which can contain the AIDS epidemic. The safety of the vaccine was shown in a smaller study (HVTN 100). Local media providers will house those who got infected with HIV for care and treatment with counselling. A number of other NIAID-supported HIV prevention trials are also being examined throughout southern Africa. In the US, 1.2 million people are infected according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An agent that works in South Africa could be adjusted later for use against viral subtypes that circulate elsewhere, including in the United States.