A new experimental HIV vaccine is to start human trials as early as next year.
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The vaccine, which is constructed to fit a vulnerable part of the HIV virus, generated antibodies during tests on mice, guinea pigs, and monkeys. It was successfully able to neutralize various strains of HIV.
The findings were published in medical journal Nature Medicine on 4 June. The study was lead by scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
‘NIH scientists have used their detailed knowledge of the structure of HIV to find an unusual site of vulnerability on the virus and design a novel and potentially powerful vaccine,’ said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
‘This elegant study is a potentially important step forward in the ongoing quest to develop a safe and effective HIV vaccine.’
How it works
The vaccine is epitope-based. An epitope is the specific part of an antigen to which an antibody can bind. This epitope was only discovered two years ago.
The way the vaccine works is, after scientists identify powerful antibodies that could neutralize HIV, they try to draw out those antibodies with the vaccine.
‘Investigators engineered many immunogens, or proteins designed to activate an immune response, to create the vaccine, using the known structure of the fusion peptide,’ explains Benjamin Adams in HIVPlus Magazine. ‘The winning immunogen consisted of eight amino acids of the fusion peptide bonded to a carrier that generated a strong immune response. They also paired this immunogen with a replica of the HIV spike.’
‘Investigators then tested different combinations of injections of the protein plus an HIV spike in mice and analyzed the antibodies that the vaccine regimens generated. The antibodies, as planned, attached to the HIV fusion peptide and neutralized up to 31 percent of viruses from a panel of 208 HIV strains from all around the world.’
Scientists also have to gather empirical data. The human trials of the new vaccine regimen are expected to begin in the second half of 2019.