Human trials are set to begin in the second half of 2019 on an experimental HIV vaccine, leading to new hope for a cure for the disease.
The vaccine works by attacking a vulnerable portion of HIV, the fusion peptide, drawing out antibodies that assist in neutralizing the virus.
The findings leading up to the planned trial were published this month in the journal Nature Medicine.
“The new target is a part of HIV called the fusion peptide, a string of eight amino acids that helps the virus fuse with a cell to infect it. The fusion peptide has a much simpler structure than other sites on the virus that HIV vaccine scientists have studied,” explained the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in a release.
This particular vaccine is fairly new. The epitope used in this vaccine – that is, the part of an antigen that an antibody can bind with – was only discovered in 2016.
“NIH scientists have used their detailed knowledge of the structure of HIV to find an unusual site of vulnerability on the virus and design a novel and potentially powerful vaccine,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. on the organization’s website.
In studies on mice, the vaccine neutralized up to 31% of viruses from a panel of 208 HIV strains worldwide. Similar results were discovered in guinea pigs and monkeys.
This trial is now one of three possible vaccines currently in the works, with both the HVTN 702 and Imbokodo clinical trials also under study.
Scientists hope to improve the vaccine regimen for use in humans, including upping its potency to allow for more consistent outcomes with fewer overall injections.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 70 million people have been infected with HIV worldwide, with some 35 million dying as a result.