An early-phase clinical trial testing a new vaccine to prevent HIV has produced incredibly promising results, which experts believe may pave the way for the development of future vaccines against other major viruses as well.
According to IAVI and Scripps Research, in Phase 1 trials, its vaccine showed success in stimulating the production of the rare immune cells that are needed to start the process of generating antibodies against the fast-mutating HIV.
Researchers said the targeted response was detected in 97 percent of participants who received the vaccine.
William Schief, Ph.D. is a professor and immunologist at Scripps Research, and the executive director of vaccine design at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center (NAC), whose laboratory developed the vaccine. He said his team’s study demonstrates “proof of principle for a new vaccine concept for HIV,” a concept that could be applied to other pathogens as well.
“With our many collaborators on the study team, we showed that vaccines can be designed to stimulate rare immune cells with specific properties, and this targeted stimulation can be very efficient in humans,” Dr. Schief said. “We believe this approach will be key to making an HIV vaccine, and possibly important for making vaccines against other pathogens.”
Next, IAVI and Scripps Research will be partnering with biotech company Moderna, which created one of the nation’s major COVID-19 vaccines. Moderna will help develop and test an mRNA-based vaccine that can produce the same beneficial immune cells. According to IAVI, using mRNA technology could significantly accelerate the pace of HIV vaccine development.
Dr. Schief presented the team’s results at the International AIDS Society HIV Research for Prevention virtual conference in early February. The IAVI said HIV, which affects more than 38 million people globally, is known to be among the most difficult viruses to target with a vaccine, in large part because it constantly evolves into different strains to evade the immune system.
Mark Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of IAVI, said the “exciting findings” have emerged from remarkably creative, innovative science, and are a testament to the research team’s talent, dedication and collaborative spirit, and to the generosity of the trial participants.
“Given the urgent need for an HIV vaccine to rein in the global epidemic, we think these results will have broad implications for HIV vaccine researchers as they decide which scientific directions to pursue,” Dr. Feinberg said. “The collaboration among individuals and institutions that made this important and exceptionally complex clinical trial so successful will be tremendously enabling to accelerate future HIV vaccine research.”
According to IAVI and Scripps Research, the approach of targeting naïve B cells with specific properties, called “germline targeting,” could also be applied to vaccines for other challenging pathogens such as influenza, dengue, Zika, hepatitis C viruses, and malaria.
“This is a tremendous achievement for vaccine science as a whole,” said Dennis Burton, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, scientific director of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center and director of the NIH Consortium for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Development.
“This clinical trial has shown that we can drive immune responses in predictable ways to make new and better vaccines, and not just for HIV,” Dr. Burton added. “We believe this type of vaccine engineering can be applied more broadly, bringing about a new day in vaccinology.”