Research to combat HIV continues. Proof of this is that a trial to develop a preventive vaccine against the virus that causes AIDS will begin in April.
It is led by French people, researchers from the VRI (Vaccine Research Institute), a laboratory established by the National AIDS Research Agency (ANRS), Inserm and the University of Paris-Est Créteil.
An innovative method
The vaccine candidate, called “CD40.HIVRI.Env”, is based on a technique that is unique in the world. Researchers have targeted dendritic cells to fight attacks from the AIDS virus. These cells are in fact the sentinels of our immune system.
Concretely, how does it work? Antibodies to which fragments of HIV are attached are launched directly on these cells. “This vaccine is innovative because it is based on what we know best in immunology, explains Yves Lévy, specialist in HIV infection and guest of France Inter this Friday morning. What was needed in the body to induce an immune response that was able to protect against the virus was dissected. What we have designed is a vaccine that delivers precisely the necessary amount of the pathogen, which is HIV, into cells to try to induce the best immune responses.”
Three administrations of the vaccine are necessary: two to a month apart and the last six months after.
This technology has been proven in pre-clinical (animal) trials and could be used to create anti-Covid vaccines , the researchers say. The combination of the vaccine tested with a messenger RNA vaccine could amplify the immune response and thus obtain better efficacy, in particular against variants.
Volunteers needed for phase 1 HIV vaccine
To start the trial, the Vaccine Research Institute is looking for 72 volunteers aged 18 to 65 and with no health problem, living in Ile-de-France. The trial will assess the safety of different doses of the vaccine which will be administered either alone or in combination with another vaccine which is more advanced in development.
At this stage therefore “we will not assess the vaccine efficacy which results in protection against infection, explains Professor Yves Lévy, who is also director of the VRI, but the safety of the vaccine, and the biological responses that the organism develops.”
The phase 1 trial is conducted “double blind” : part of the participants will receive the candidate vaccine while the other will receive a placebo. This trial will assess the tolerance of different doses of the vaccine which will be administered either alone or in combination with another vaccine currently under development in phase II / III.
During the study, participants must continue to protect themselves against any risk of contamination by the AIDS virus. Participation in the trial lasts one year, comprising eight hospital visits (each compensated).
To volunteer, you have to go to this platform . Interested persons will be contacted for a preliminary medical examination, to verify whether they meet the criteria to participate in the trial and to provide them with all the necessary information.
Why is the development of a preventive vaccine important?
“A preventive vaccine is aimed at HIV-negative people, who could be exposed. We know that unfortunately this continues. This vaccine would protect them against infection,” explains Professor Yves Lévy, on France Inter .
In 2019, 1.7 million new HIV infections were identified worldwide, according to the WHO (World Health Organization). “Today, we know which groups are at risk: the youngest are infected, there is a reduction in prevention rules. We have other prevention tools, but the vaccine will be central in prevention to slow down the dynamics of the epidemic,” explains Yves Lévy, still on France Inter .
The last attempt at a preventive vaccine against HIV dates back to 2009. In France, 6,200 new cases are recorded each year, and 25,000 people are unaware that they are carriers of the virus. Currently, there is no cure for this disease.