A promising breakthrough in HIV/AIDS vaccine-development sparks hope
Three decades since the search for a vaccine against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)—which causes AIDS—began, the scientific community and the world at large is excited at the likelihood that the a breakthrough has been reached. As the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic and Ebola threatens to resurface in Africa, this news brings some cheer. Given HIV is a fast-mutating virus, developing a vaccine that is effective has proved nearly impossible. Globally, 38 million people were living with HIV/AIDS in 2019, with 1.7 million having acquired the infection in 2019 itself.
In February, non-profit drug developer IAVI and the Scripps Research Institute had announced the breakthrough, though it barely generated any attention until the news went viral on Twitter recently. The new approach is based on the same underlying vaccine technology as Moderna’s vaccine (as also Pfizer-BioNTech’s) against Covid-19—mRNA vaccination. The vaccine showed success in stimulating the production of immune cells that are needed to start antibody-production; this approach, called “germline targeting”, activates naive B-cells with specific properties. This response was detected in 47 of 48 phase 1 trial participants. While researchers caution that these are early data, and the trial is in a preliminary phase, the success does inspire hope of a AIDS-free world