New HIV vaccine ‘based on Moderna’s COVID jab’ shows huge promise after first human trials

A scan showning HIV-1 virions as green round bumps budding from the surface of a cultured lymphocyte cell. Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

A new vaccine has shown huge promise in the fight against HIV with the treatment successfully stimulating the production of antibodies in human trials.

The novel vaccine stimulated the production of rare immune cells needed to generate antibodies against HIV in 97 per cent of participants in phase one of human trials. This makes it reportedly the most effective HIV vaccine to date.

IAVI and Scripps Research, who are developing the vaccine, reported that HIV researchers have pursued the “holy grail of stimulating the immune system” to “create rare but powerful antibodies that can neutralise diverse strains of HIV”.

Dr William Schief, a professor and immunologist at Scripps Research and executive director of vaccine design at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center, whose laboratory developed the vaccine, said the vaccine is targeted to set off the stimulation of naïve B cells. These cells elicit the production of a variety of neutralising antibodies (bnAbs).

Schief explained: “We and others postulated many years ago that in order to induce bnAbs, you must start the process by triggering the right B cells – cells that have special properties giving them the potential to develop into bnAb-secreting cells.

“In this trial, the targeted cells were only about one in a million of all naïve B cells. To get the right antibody response, we first need to prime the right B cells.

“The data from this trial affirms the ability of the vaccine immunogen to do this.”

He said the study “demonstrates proof of principle for a new vaccine concept for HIV”, and the concept developed in the study “could be applied to other pathogens” like influenza, dengue, Zika, hepatitis C viruses and malaria.

Dr Julie McElrath, one of the lead investigators in the trial and senior vice president and director of Fred Hutch’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, said the trial was “a landmark study in the HIV vaccine field”. She added the novel vaccine and trial “provide a roadmap to accelerate further progress toward an HIV vaccine”.

Approximately 38 million people globally were living with HIV in 2019, according to UNAIDS. The charity said 75.7 million people have been infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic in the 80s, with almost 1.7 million people becoming newly infected with the virus in 2019.

Dr Ayoade Alakija, the co-chair of the Africa Union Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance for COVID-19, celebrated the promising new HIV vaccine on Twitter. She wrote: “This is the most effective trial HIV vaccine to date.

“It is based on the Moderna’s COVID vaccine. COVID tech acceleration could change Rx for cancer & HIV in future.”

IAVI and Scripps Research said they are partnering with Moderna to develop and test an mRNA-based vaccine that harnesses the approach to produce the same beneficial immune cells. The organisations said using the technology could significantly accelerate the pace of HIV vaccine development.