New HIV Vaccine Trial Underway In South Africa: Cautious Optimism For Historic Breakthrough

A new HIV vaccine trial is set to commence in South Africa today. This is the first trial to be carried out in several years, and it is showing the most promise to date for preventing the disease.

According to The Washington Post, the new vaccine is the incarnation of one that was previously tested in a trial in Thailand, where 16,000 individuals were inoculated with an injection that yielded a modest, but inadequate, efficacy of 31 percent. However, the results from that study enabled scientists to hone in on some modifications to reformulate the drug. This new variation is now being tested on approximately 5,400 individuals in South Africa, a region that has been plagued with a high prevalence of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The hope is to bring up the injection’s efficacy rate from 31 percent to 60 percent.

A new and promising HIV vaccine trial is underway in South Africa.
[Image by Niyazz/Shutterstock]

According to Medwise, statistics show that approximately 18 percent of the adult South African population is affected by HIV. That amounts to roughly 7 million people. To compare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statistics show that 1.2 million people in the United States have the disease. South Africa is the top ranking country with the number of individuals who are living with illness. In Verulam, located in a South African coastal province, 30 percent of the population has been diagnosed with HIV.

Subjects for the new HIV vaccine trial are volunteers. Many, like Thembi Dlamini, are personally motivated to participate in the study.

“I don’t want to lose another member of my family.”

Dlamini, who is 29-years-old, lost her sister to AIDS five years ago, and she does not want to witness the next generation going through the same devastating experience. In an area where HIV is of pandemic proportions, most of the volunteer subjects in this study have been touched by the disease in some way, whether the affected acquaintance was a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a teacher. Participants in the study all hope to play a role in research that will ultimately put an end to the illness’s infectious rampage.

All 5,400 volunteers must be between 18 and 35 years of age, be sexually active and screen negative for HIV. Over the next year, each subject will receive five inoculations. Some randomly assigned volunteers will be injected with the vaccine, while others will receive a placebo injection. Their health will be closely monitored for two years, and the test subjects will continue to receive instruction on personal care to help prevent contraction of HIV.

HIV Virus 3D Illustration
[Image by Spectral-Design/Shutterstock]

Although retroviral drug treatments have been a boon for HIV patients in controlling their illness, there is still no cure for the disease. There is still no preventative drug, either. In the decades that have spanned since HIV first made global media headlines during the mid-1980s, only four vaccines have undergone testing. According to Barton Haynes, the director of Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, HIV poses a tough challenge in formulating a preventative because, unlike other pathogens for which vaccines have been successfully developed, the illness infiltrates its victims’ genetic makeup.

“HIV inserts its genetic material into the genetic material of the person it infects. That’s why we can’t cure it.”

The $130 million study is being funded in large part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and contributions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Professor Glenda Gray, the leading researcher of the trial and president of the South African Medical Research Council, is cautiously optimistic about the potential new hope that this new research study may yield.

If the trial can prove an efficacy rate of 50 to 60 percent, then pharmaceutical giants like Glaxo Smith Kline will have the green light to begin licensing negotiations with the South African government to produce the much-needed vaccine. Barring any unforeseen problems or astounding success sooner, results from the new HIV vaccine trial are not expected until 2020.

[Featured Image by Schalk van Zuydam/AP Images]