At the end of 2021, close to 38.4 million people were living with HIV infection across the world, while more than 650,000 people died of the infection in 2021 alone. The disease is a major global health issue, but a new HIV vaccine could deliver what scientists have been vying to deliver for decades: viable protection to guard against HIV.
The science and other stuff to know
Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is an infection in the body that attacks its immune system. It wreaks havoc on white blood cells known as CD4 cells, the death of which exposes a patient to other potentially lethal illnesses such as tuberculosis and cancer.
Though scientists have been trying to produce a vaccine that bars HIV pathogens from attacking the body, there had been no testing of any vaccine in humans. However, a recent phase 1 clinical trial of a vaccine in humans has produced promising results.
One of the strategies scientists have been working on to produce a vaccine has been by means of inducing broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) to combat HIV.
A neutralizing antibody (NAb) is an antibody that is responsible for defending cells from pathogens, which are organisms that cause disease, News-Medical.Net reports. NAbs are made by B-cells in the bone marrow and help produce lifelong immunity to certain infections.
Scientists have known that bnAbs acquire affinity-enhancing mutations when a bnAb-precursor B cell mutates and matures from the original naïve B cell (or “germline”) state. This germline targeting was the prime objective of the recent study that conducted clinical trials of the HIV vaccine in humans.
The findings provided “clinical proof of concept for the germline-targeting vaccine design priming strategy, support development of boosting regimens to generate VRC01-class bnAb responses against HIV, and encourage application of the germline-targeting strategy to other targets in HIV and other pathogens,” the scientists reported.
HIV is a major cause of death and suffering for a large number of people worldwide and leads to AIDS, and together they have claimed close to 50 million lives worldwide. Finally getting close to an HIV vaccine could prevent millions of deaths in the future and help many more millions live healthy and happy lives. HIV is easily transmitted from human to human, and a vaccine could mean far fewer opportunities for the virus to spread.
With phase 1 trials producing encouraging results, more testing and trials are likely to follow before the vaccine gets approval for mass-scale usage. The vaccine produced positive bnAb responses in 97 percent of the recipients, raising hopes that its efficacy against the various subtypes of HIV will stay strong.
Scientists have been working for 40 years to develop a vaccine to contain HIV. The findings indicate it may not be long before their efforts bear fruit.