It has been approximately 35 years since the beginning of the HIV epidemic. It was 1981 when large numbers of gay men began to report severe immune deficiency, then labelled as gay-related immune deficiency (GRID). Just one year later, the Center for Disease Control began to use the term ‘AIDS’ (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), and similar reports began coming out of Africa and Europe. These were the beginnings of a dark period for the LGBT community, and a difficult and costly battle that’s been waged against the disease ever since.
In those 35 years, only 5 vaccine trials have ever been tested for efficacy in humans. After about seven years with no new efficacy studies, 2 new studies have reached the point of being tested for efficacy in humans in the last year.
The first study, called HVTN 702, was launched in late 2016. It is an experimental vaccine based on a Thai trial from 2009 which was the first vaccine to ever be shown to provide some protection from the HIV virus, although that protection was modest. It is being tested in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people are infected with HIV every day.
The second study, the Ad26-env Mosaic Vaccine is receiving a lot of attention as one of the most promising new concepts in the effort to create an effective vaccine thus far. HIV is an incredibly complicated virus to stop, due mainly its widespread genetic diversity. The “mosaic vaccine” brings is designed to elicit immune responses to a wide variety of global HIV strains, making it harder for the virus to take hold. The mosaic vaccine, being developed by Johnson and Johnson in partnership with the US national Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was shown to be well-tolerated by adult humans in July. As of November, the trial to test the efficacy of the vaccine against the HIV virus has been launched in southern Africa.
This is the first time that two large scale vaccines have been in testing at the same time in over a decade, and brings new energy and hope to the fight against HIV and AIDS. Kathy Mngadi, a senior scientist at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) says the two vaccine trials “have resulted from years of scientific testing and clinical development, and they represent science’s current best efforts to develop a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. We are grateful to the people of southern Africa who volunteer for these trials, and the communities in which the trials are conducted to help develop what could be a true game-changer for the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”
For information about how to get involved with HIV treatment and cure trials happening in Cleveland, contact our partners at the AIDS Clinical Trials Unit at Case Western Reserve University.
For information about HIV Testing, the POZ2POZ support group, the Radiant Collective HIV outreach youth program, or our PrEP Outreach program, check out our website or contact Eris Eady, Director of Programs, at EEady@LGBTCleveland.org.