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Moderna HIV Vaccine Phase 1 Trial Has Begun

Moderna HIV Vaccine Phase 1 Trial Has Begun

Vaccines are one of the greatest advancements in medicine that have allowed us to eradicate diseases. But in the case of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, an HIV vaccine is still beyond our grasp.

But it seems as though this is about to change. Recently, Moderna, a pharmaceutical company, has reported that its vaccine for HIV has now begun human clinical trials. What exactly does this mean for those living with HIV, and why is having a vaccine against HIV so important?

HIV Vaccine Trials Started in the US

Vaccine trials have started in the United States. At the moment, Phase 1 involves 56 healthy, HIV-negative volunteers. The participants where injected with an immunogen, a substance that teaches the B lymphocytes to create “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” or bnAbs, the type of antibody that can neutralize many variants of HIV⁶.

The vaccine will be an mRNA-based vaccine, similar to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. At the moment, the goal for the trials is not to find out how effective the vaccine is. Rather, the goal would be to see if the vaccine is safe and if it would trigger an immune response in patients. If the vaccine passes this first phase, then it can proceed to phase 2 and phase 3 trials2.

Why Is the HIV Vaccine So Important?

In 2020, it is estimated that anywhere around 30 million to 45 million people were living with HIV. And in the same year, an estimated 480,000 to 1 million people died from HIV-related complications3.

In terms of treating the disease, scientists have yet to still find a cure. However, patients undergoing antiretroviral therapy have shown positive results and are an effective means of halting the progression of the disease.

Antiretroviral treatment can also have side effects, depending on the person taking it. This is because this form of treatment usually involves taking a cocktail of three types of medications, each with its own set of possible side effects4.

However, the biggest problem by far is how expensive antiretroviral therapy is. Treatment for a year would cost around 12,000 to 15,000 pesos, which is no small amount of money. If you add the fact that poorer populations are more prone to being infected with HIV, then antiretroviral therapy is still not the best solution.

Having a vaccine that can prevent infection outright is a massive step towards eradicating HIV. Being immune to the disease can significantly lower the chances of an outbreak, and future generations will have progressively lower infection rates if the vaccine proves to be effective.

Why Did It Take So Long To Develop a Vaccine?

One of the more common questions about an HIV vaccine is: why did it take such a long time to develop a vaccine?

The main reason is that HIV is a complicated virus.

And because it has become so widespread, there are a lot of variations of this virus present all over the world. A person can also have multiple variants of the virus in their body at once. This means that a vaccine needs to be able to fight all these variants in order to be effective.

Another factor is that when scientists first discovered HIV, we did not have the technology and knowledge we have right now. In fact, only recently has HIV been a manageable disease. Before antiretroviral therapy, having HIV was akin to having a death sentence.

But by far, the biggest hurdle to an effective vaccine is that HIV can also lay dormant in the body, making it completely “invisible” to immune cells. This means that the virus can essentially go undetected by the immune system, and it can then spread throughout the body.

Hopefully, the vaccine trials yield positive results. An effective vaccine could save millions of lives, and can eventually eradicate HIV completely.

Learn more about HIV and AIDS treatment and management, here.

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1 A Phase 1 Study to Evaluate the Safety and Immunogenicity of eOD-GT8 60mer mRNA Vaccine (mRNA-1644) and Core-g28v2 60mer mRNA Vaccine (mRNA-1644v2-Core) – Full Text View – ClinicalTrials.gov, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT05001373?term=mRNA&cond=HIV&draw=2&rank=4, Accessed August 19, 2021

2 Moderna’s Experimental HIV Vaccine Could Begin Human Trials as Soon as This Week, https://www.sciencealert.com/moderna-s-experimental-hiv-vaccine-could-begin-human-trials-as-soon-as-this-week, Accessed August 19, 2021

3 Global HIV & AIDS statistics — Fact sheet | UNAIDS, https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet, Accessed August 19, 2021

4 New HIV Treatments and Vaccine Trials on the Horizon, https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2021/hiv-treatments-research.html, Accessed August 19, 2021

5 After 40 years of AIDS, here’s why we don’t have an HIV vaccine | Science News, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/aids-hiv-vaccine-anniversary-immunity-antibodies, Accessed August 19, 2021

6 Tests of HIV vaccine using mRNA technology have begun, https://news.abs-cbn.com/overseas/01/30/22/tests-of-hiv-vaccine-using-mrna-technology-have-begun?fbclid=IwAR0MxR55_mDgQfNYcI8-owL_HgPGxNbF3KjDfFMpWdsxDyUoHXv63P-Xui8, Accessed January 31, 2022

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated May 04
Medically reviewed by Michael Henry Wanat