Preliminary trial results encouraging for HIV vaccines

Parallel trials for Aids vaccines in South Africa look promising in their long road to conclusion, a press conference in Sandton heard on Friday.

Indications are that vaccine trials tailored for global strains had an effect against the strain of the virus most prevalent in South Africa.

“Preliminary results support continued development of the vaccine to phase two, which is good news,” said Professor Gavin Churchyard, whose field of research involves the HVTN204 vaccine, which is hoped will be preventative.

Phase two involves checking for immune effects and safety in human participants.

“It’s an important milestone but we still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, it will still take many years to find an effective vaccine but we are on the right path,” said Churchyard, who works at the Aurum Institute for Health Research, based in the North West.

“While we are still years away from a licensed vaccine, the people of Klerksdorp are playing a key role in finding a vaccine by volunteering to participate in these studies.”

Dr Efthyhia Vardas, who has been working on the GTU-Multi HIV B Clave DNA and Adeno-associated vaccines, aimed at being therapeutic, said there were indications that it could keep viral loads under control.

She hoped this treatment would help in maintaining CD4 counts and keep HIV infection in a chronic phase.

“It’s too early to tell whether it could be used alone, or with a drug,” she said.

Another Aids vaccine researcher, Glenda Gray, who along with Vardas is based at the perinatal HIV research unit at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, explained that vaccines should become part of the toolkit aimed at prevention. The other components were abstinence, behaviour and use of condoms.

“We know how to prevent HIV,” she said, “but we just can’t seem to do it.”

Professor Lynne Morris, from that National Institute for Communicable Diseases, just back from the international Aids Vaccine Conference in Seattle, in the United States, announced that next year’s conference would be held in Cape Town.

“It will highlight South Africa and whole of Africa and the need for vaccine.”

All four scientists are linked to the South African Aids Vaccine Initiative, which coordinates research and development in testing HIV vaccines.—Sapa

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