Trial vaccine ‘could keep HIV patients healthier for longer’

The results of a small therapeutic vaccine trial conducted in South Africa were largely overlooked at this year’s International Aids Conference in the wake of the microbicides breakthrough.

But the research could have great benefit for South Africa. Unlike preventative vaccines, which aim to immunise uninfected patients against HIV, therapeutic vaccines would boost the immune response of patients who already have the virus.

This type of vaccine could keep patients healthy for longer and delay the point at which people need to begin antiretroviral therapy (ART), which, in turn, would ease the strain on the health system. The vaccine was tested on 60 volunteers at the Wits clinic in Soweto.

The patients, who began the trial with CD4 counts above 500, were not yet eligible for ART. The trial was designed to test for safety and researchers did not expect to see a significant response. But when the two-year study ended, the amount of HIV circulating in the patients’ blood had dropped and their CD4 counts had increased.

The effect was slight but significant enough to warrant another trial. “We never expected to see such a good result for so long,” said principal researcher Eftyhia Vardas of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Wits University. It was the first time a therapeutic vaccine was tested in South Africa and the first time such a vaccine was used on patients not already on ART.


Kalevi Reijonen, chief executive of FIT Biotech, which funded the trial, said that if all goes to plan a vaccine could be available by 2016. “This study clearly gives us hope and proves it is possible to develop a therapeutic vaccine,” said Reijonen. But vaccine experts warned that it was too early to make assumptions about the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“I would be wary of overinterpreting a small trial designed for safety and not for efficacy,” said Seth Berkley, president of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative. Mitchell Warren, executive director of the Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, said that while the results are encouraging, a larger and longer trial is needed to confirm the results.

Therapeutic vaccines do not have the same support that preventative vaccines or microbicides do. Some $38.6-million was invested in therapeutic vaccines last year. In contrast, $868-million went to research into a preventative HIV vaccine and $236-million to microbicide research.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Inequality manifests in stimulus

Structural forces mean emerging economies can’t offer the necessary Covid-19 fiscal-relief packages

The pandemic creates ideal conditions for the rise of populism

The state of politics and geopolitics has been exacerbated, rather than stabilised, by the coronavirus crisis

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz: from ‘whizz-kid’ politician to deposed leader

Kurz becomes the country's shortest-serving chancellor, as well as the first in Austria's post-war history to be removed in a no-confidence vote

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz, the world’s youngest leader in waiting

"Whizz-kid" is one of the monikers given to Austrian conservative Sebastian Kurz, who is set to become the world's youngest leader at just 31.

Muslims caught in Austrian election crossfire

Major political parties in Austria are openly endorsing anti-Islam messages in their campaigns ahead of the country's elections next month

Why the International #AIDS2016 Conference is so important and why it still matters

More than 18 000 delegates are descending on Durban, South Africa, for the International AIDS Conference from July 18.
Advertising

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

Blast rocks Durban’s Engen refinery

Residents are being evacuated as firefighters battle to control the blaze

ConCourt asked to rule that Zuma must testify for 10...

It is Zondo's legal end game and will leave the former president, his supporters and those implicated in state capture to increasingly play fast and loose at imputing political motive to the commission

Carlos on Oozymandias’ goodbye grift

"Look on my works ye Mighty, and gimme 50 bucks!"

This is how the SIU catches crooks

Athandiwe Saba talked to the Special Investigating Unit’s Andy Mothibi about its caseload, including 1 000 Covid contracts
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…