New vaccine, long-acting
drug trials buoy hopes in HIV fight
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[November 30, 2017] By
LONDON (Reuters) - Researchers announced
the launch of two big studies in Africa on Thursday to test a new HIV
vaccine and a long-acting injectable drug, fuelling hopes for better
ways to protect against the virus that causes AIDS.
The start of the three-year vaccine trial involving 2,600 women in
southern Africa means that for the first time in more than a decade
there are now two big HIV vaccine clinical trials taking place at
the same time.
The new study is testing a two-vaccine combination developed by
Johnson & Johnson <JNJ.N> (J&J) with the U.S. National Institutes of
Health (NIH) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The first
vaccine, also backed by NIH, began a trial last November.
At the same time, GlaxoSmithKline's <GSK.L> majority-owned ViiV
Healthcare unit is starting another study enrolling 3,200 women in
sub-Saharan Africa to evaluate the benefit of giving injections
every two months of its experimental drug cabotegravir.
The ViiV initiative, which is expected to run until May 2022, also
has funding from the NIH and the Gates Foundation.
Women are a major focus in the fight against the sexually
transmitted disease since in Africa they account for more than half
of all new HIV infections.
ViiV is also running another large study with its long-acting
injection in HIV-uninfected men and transgender women who have sex
with men. That study started in December 2016.
Although modern HIV drugs have turned the disease from a death
sentence into a chronic condition and preventative drug treatment
can help, a vaccine is still seen as critical in rolling back the
The latest vaccine experiments aim to build on the modest success of
a trial in Thailand in 2009, when an earlier vaccine showed a 31
percent reduction in infections.
"We're making progress," said J&J Chief Scientific Officer Paul
Stoffels, who believes it should be possible to achieve
effectiveness above 50 percent.
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"That is the goal. Hopefully, we get much higher," he told Reuters.
The new vaccines require one dose to prime the immune system and a
second shot to boost the body's response.
Significantly, J&J's latest vaccine uses so-called mosaic technology
to combine immune-stimulating proteins from different HIV strains,
representing different types of virus from around the world, which
should produce a "global" vaccine.
One reason why making an HIV vaccine has proved so difficult in the
past is the variability of the virus.
Initial clinical results reported at an AIDS conference in Paris in
July showed the mosaic vaccine was safe and elicited a good immune
response in healthy volunteers.
Some 37 million individuals around the world currently have HIV and
around 1.8 million became newly infected last year.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Andrew Heavens and Jason
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