Another bites the dust: H.I.V. vaccine shut down as it fails trial, disappointing researchers

A vaccine against HIV is sorely needed because even now around 1.7 million people are newly infected each year.


In another setback in the long quest to prevent HIV infection, a trial in South Africa has been shut down because an experimental vaccine was not working, federal health officials announced Monday.

The trial, which began in 2016, followed one in Thailand that ended in 2009. That vaccine offered only modest protection against infection. Experts argued over how much, but the vaccine was no more than 30% protective.

Nonetheless, it was the only vaccine that had appeared to work at all.

 Another bites the dust: H.I.V. vaccine shut down as it fails trial, disappointing researchers

The trial for the HIV vaccine — known as HVTN 702 but nicknamed Uhambo, means “journey” in Zulu — included 5,407 young adult men and women in South Africa. Image credit: Billion Photos/ Shutterstock

“We hoped this vaccine candidate would work — regrettably, it does not,” said Dr Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which conducted the trial.

A vaccine against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is sorely needed. Even now, nearly 40 years after the start of the epidemic, 1.7 million people are newly infected each year — most of them in Africa, especially southern Africa, according to UNAIDS, the United Nations’ AIDS-fighting agency.

The trial — known as HVTN 702 but nicknamed Uhambo, which means “journey” in Zulu — included 5,407 young adult men and women in South Africa.

Last month, a safety-monitoring panel looked at early results and found there were 123 infections among participants who got a placebo injection and 129 among those who got the vaccine.

That clearly indicated that the vaccine was not protective but did not mean it was making participants more vulnerable to HIV, scientists said. A difference of just six infections in so large a pool of participants could have been due to chance.

The Uhambo vaccine had to be significantly changed from the one tested in Thailand because South Africa has a different dominant strain of HIV.

The vaccine used canarypox, a bird virus that can infect human cells but cannot multiply in them, to deliver into the body a protein found on the outer envelope of HIV The immune system learns to recognize the protein and to make protective antibodies to it.

Two other HIV vaccine trials, Nos. 705 and 706, known as Imbokodo and Mosaico, are still underway. Both use a common cold virus as the vector and different surface proteins.

Donald G. McNeil Jr. c.2020 The New York Times Company

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