Preclinical trial data brings new hope for HIV vaccine

3 Jul

Publishing data from preclinical trials in nonhuman primates in the journal Science, Crucell Holland B.V, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, reveal encouraging results for their HIV vaccine.

pills and syringe
“Our ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine that prevents HIV in the first place,” says Dr. Paul Stoffels of Johnson & Johnson.

“Despite great progress in HIV treatments,” says Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals at Johnson & Johnson, “HIV remains one of the greatest global health threats of our time with millions continuing to be infected each year.”

“Our ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine that prevents HIV in the first place,” Dr. Stoffels continues. “By Janssen collaborating with multiple stakeholders on new tools, we hope one day to help eradicate HIV.”

Repeated attempts to develop an effective HIV vaccine over the past 30 years have so far been unsuccessful. Previously, Medical News Today has looked at studies examining the reasons why experimental HIV vaccines are famously prone to “backfiring.”

However, last month, Science and the journal Cell published the results from studies investigating an immunogen that may be effective as the first in a series of immunizations against HIV. This immunogen, called eOD-GT8 60mer, was designed by a team at The Scripps Research Institute’s International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Risk of infection per exposure estimated to be ‘100-fold lower’

Speaking to NBC News about the new vaccine, Hanneke Schuitemaker, vice president in charge of developing viral vaccines at drug company Janssen, said that “based on epidemiological data, we estimate that the risk of a person to become infected per exposure is about 100-fold lower.”

According to the results of the preclinical trial, the vaccine provided “complete protection” to the 12 nonhuman primate trial subjects from becoming infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) – the nonhuman primate equivalent of HIV. The primates were each exposed to the virus six times.

The study results suggest there is also a strong link between the vaccine’s protective ability and the number of antibody functions to fight the virus. The vaccine developers cite this “polyfunctionality” as evidence that the vaccine may be effective in human subjects.

“We are very encouraged by the results of this preclinical HIV vaccine study, and the findings lead to a clear path forward for evaluating this HIV vaccine candidate in humans,” says lead author Dr. Dan H. Barouch, PhD, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, MA.

Currently, 400 volunteers are being recruited in the US and Rwanda for a phase 1 trial of the vaccine in humans. Different components of the vaccine are also currently being evaluated in ongoing phase 1 clinical studies.

However, this has not been the only big piece of HIV vaccine news this week.

HIV vaccine researcher jailed for falsifying data

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that a former Iowa State University researcher, Dong Pyou Han, had been jailed for falsifying HIV vaccine research.

Han spiked rabbit blood with human antibodies, which gave a false impression that the rabbits in his team’s studies were mounting an immune response that was neutralizing the HIV virus they were infected with.

Han began spiking the rabbit blood in 2008, reportedly to cover up the accidental contamination of blood samples. However, it was not until 2013 – when Harvard researchers attempted to validate the team’s results – that human antibodies were discovered in the samples, which unraveled the deception.

Sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison, Han has also been ordered to repay the $7.2 million in federal government grant funds that his team received using the falsified results. He has also been banned for pursuing federal research grants for 3 years.

Written by David McNamee