A novel HIV vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford in the wake of the Covid-19 vaccine success, is to be trialled on humans.
The goal of the trial is to evaluate the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity (its ability to provoke an immune response) of the HIVconsvX vaccine.
Researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute, which developed the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, have started vaccinations of the novel HIV vaccine candidate as part of a Phase 1 clinical trial in the UK.
Thirteen healthy, HIV-negative adults, aged 18-65 and considered not to be at high risk of infection, will initially receive one dose of the vaccine, followed by a further booster dose after four weeks.
The mosaic vaccine targets a broad range of HIV-1 variants, making it potentially applicable for HIV strains in any geographical region.
Similarly to the technology behind the Covid-19 jab, the new HIV vaccine uses genetically modified chimpanzee adenovirus vectors to carry the genetic code into the body.
“These vectors have been safely used in research vaccine studies against many different infections in Oxford and more widely,” the researchers said.
“It is absolutely impossible to become infected with HIV or Aids from these vaccines.”
Trials of the vaccine will also start in Kenya, Zambia and Uganda, it is understood.
Prof Tomas Hanke, professor of vaccine immunology at the Jenner Institute, and lead researcher on the trial, said: "An effective HIV vaccine has been elusive for 40 years.
"This trial is the first in a series of evaluations of this novel vaccine strategy in both HIV-negative individuals for prevention and in people living with HIV for cure."
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While most HIV vaccine candidates work by inducing antibodies generated by B-cells, HIVconsvX induces the immune system’s T cells, targeting them to highly conserved and therefore vulnerable regions of HIV, an achilles heel common to most HIV variants.
The trial is part of the European Aids Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020), an internationally collaborative research project funded by the European Commission.
An estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV, which, if left untreated, causes Aids. The virus has killed 32 million people worldwide.
Developing a vaccine against HIV was “extremely challenging”, the researchers said, as it has an “extraordinary ability” to “change its genes”.
The aim of the study, which will last four to five months, is to assess the safety of the vaccine and if it produces an immune response to an HIV infection.
Participants will undergo 11 visits during the trial, during which blood will be drawn to assess their response to the vaccine over time. Researchers hope to be able to report results of the trial by April next year.
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The Jenner Institute, named after Edward Jenner, who helped develop the smallpox vaccine, began developing a vaccine against Covid-19 in January 2020.
Just six months later, initial safety data showed the vaccine (which would later become known as the AstraZeneca jab) was safe and produced an immune response.
By December, the vaccine was approved and regulators said it produced a high efficacy rate.
Dame Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the Institute who worked on the Covid-19 vaccine, was recently given a standing ovation by spectators at Wimbledon.