New HIV vaccine begins human trials

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The first doses of an AIDS vaccine using messenger RNA technology have been administered to humans, the American biotechnology company Moderna and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative announced on Thursday.

The so-called phase 1 test will be carried out in the United States on 56 healthy adults without HIV. Despite four decades of research, scientists have yet to develop a vaccine against this disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.

However, recent successes in messenger RNA technology, which has enabled the development of Covid-19 vaccines in record time, including that of Moderna, have raised hopes.

The objective of the test vaccine is to stimulate the production of a certain type of antibody (bnAb), capable of acting against the numerous circulating variants of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The vaccine aims to educate the B cells, which are part of our immune system, to produce these antibodies.

For this, the assay will test the injection of an initial antigen, that is, a substance capable of inducing an immune response, and a booster antigen injected later. They will be injected via messenger RNA technology.

“The production of bnAbs is widely considered a target for HIV vaccination, and this is a first step in that process,” the statement said.

“Other antigens will be needed to guide the immune system in the right direction, but this combination of delivery and boosting could be the first key component of a potential HIV vaccine regimen,” said David Diemert, the study’s principal scientist on one of the four centers where it is held, George Washington University.

The antigens used were developed by the scientific research organization International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and the Scripps Research Institute, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the US National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIAD) and Moderna.

Last year, a first test, which did not use messenger RNA but used the first antigen, showed that the desired immune response was obtained in several dozen participants. The next step was to work with Moderna.

“Given the speed at which messenger RNA vaccines can be produced, this platform offers a more flexible and responsive approach to testing and designing a vaccine,” the statement said.

“The search for an HIV vaccine is long and difficult, and having new tools in terms of antigens and platform could be the key to rapid progress,” said Mark Feinberg, director of IAVI.

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