Scientists say a new HIV vaccine clinical trial is underway in South Africa which could safely prevent HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The study, called HVTN 702, aims to enroll 5,400 sexually active men and women aged between 18 and 35 at 15 sites across South Africa.
It will be the largest and most advanced HIV vaccine clinical trial to take place in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people a day are infected with HIV.
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The new vaccine aims to provide greater and more sustained protection and has been adapted to the HIV sub-type that predominates in southern Africa.
Volunteers for the study, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), are being randomly assigned to receive either the vaccine regimen or a placebo. All participants will receive five injections over a year.
Participants who become infected with HIV in the community will be referred to local medical providers for care and treatment and will be counseled on how to reduce their risk of transmitting the virus. Results of the vaccine study are expected in late 2020.
In a statement released ahead of the trial, Anthony S. Fauci, the director of NIAID, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said the new study is based on the one conducted in Thailand led by the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and the Thai Ministry of Health.
The vaccine being tested in HVTN 702 is based on a 2009 trial in Thailand, that was found to be 31.2 percent effective at preventing HIV infection over the 3.5 years of follow-up after the vaccination.
Anthony Fauci said:
“If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV.
Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection, such as South Africa.”
The 2009 Thailand study proved for the first time that an AIDS vaccine was possible. It looked at a vaccine candidate called RV144.
Since the results were announced, researchers have been combing through the data. The HIV vaccine, however, only offered a protection rate of 31 percent—not high enough to go to market, but high enough to cause a lot of excitement for vaccine researchers.