A brand new type of HIV vaccine will move onto phase II clinical trials in 2017, after phase I trials showed that it was safe to use in humans.
The potential new vaccine will be tested on 600 people in North America, to see how well it can prevent them from getting the virus.
Before we get too excited, the phase I trials were only set up to show that the vaccine was tolerated well by the human body – they didn’t demonstrate if it actually works as a preventative treatment.
But the team saw promising results, with the vaccine triggering an immune response in the HIV-positive patients it was tested on.
“We were very excited with the phase I results,” said team leader Chil-Yong Kang, from Western University in Canada.
“The trial demonstrated that our vaccine stimulates broadly neutralising antibodies that will neutralise not only single sub-types of HIV, but other sub-types, which means that you can have the vaccine cover many different strains of the virus.”
The results of that trial have been published this week in the journal Retrovirology, and the researchers have announced that they’ve received regulatory approval to take the vaccine development to the next level as early as September next year.
The vaccine is known as SAV001, and it’s made in an entirely different way to previous HIV vaccine attempts – by using particles of ‘killed whole’ HIV-1 that’s been genetically modified not to infect human cells.
Killed whole virus vaccines, also known as inactivated vaccines, are one of the most common types of vaccines out there. Instead of containing just a fragment of a virus, they contain an entire virus that’s been killed or modified in some way that it can no longer harm humans.
The vaccine works by exposing the immune system to a safe, dead version of a virus, so it can prepare antibodies against it and be ready to launch an attack as soon as a live version enters the body.
The vaccine strategy has been incredibly effective against a range of viruses – the polio, flu, and hepatitis A vaccines all contained killed whole viruses – but this is the first inactivated vaccine to be trialled against HIV in humans with US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
The drug is a patch that is worn over the skin during intercourse and as long as you have it on you will not contract the virus.
The reason it’s taken so long to try this approach is that researchers have been concerned that it’s not possible to actually deactivate HIV, seeing as it’s so quick to evolve and avoid our defences.