mRNA tech ‘reason for hope’ on path to HIV vaccine

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

Pic:getty/tetianagarkusha
Pic:getty/tetianagarkusha

Related tags: mRNA, HIV vaccine

With mRNA tech achieving major success against COVID-19, the initiation of trials into vaccination against HIV is creating discussion amid a potential breakthrough in the prevention of the disease.

Ahead of the BIO International Conference, one of the talking point for the event will center on the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons that have been learnt. Within this conversation, the potential of mRNA technology will certainly feature.

Prior to the event, BIO referenced an area of research that could have a significant impact on global health, as it highlighted the clinical trials underway for an mRNA vaccine for HIV.

The research is being carried out by Moderna and IAVI, a non-profit research organization, with Phase I trials already underway, after being launched earlier this year​.

Only a few weeks ago, the partners launched a further Phase I trial in Rwanda and South Africa to evaluate mRNA-1644 for safety and immunogenicity. The trial represents the first time that an mRNA-delivered HIV immunogen is being testing in Africa, with African scientists and researchers leading the effort.

Dagna Laufer, VP of clinical development at IAVI, explained that the clinical trial involved transferring state-of-the-art laboratory technology to Africa, to allow African scientists to both conduct the studies and to analyze the relevant data.

Laufer stated, in the long-term, the hope is that this “will also be beneficial in enabling our African scientific partners to address other public health threats relevant to their countries and help them deliver on their tremendous potential as scientific leaders in the development of vaccines and biologics to address important global health challenges.”

The hope for a HIV vaccine

Alongside developing expertise in the area, the primary hope of the work is to progress the development of a vaccine against HIV.

Recent findings from a Phase I clinical trial of vaccination with the HIV immunogen eOD-GT8 60mer as a recombinant protein induced a targeted immune response in 97% of recipients. The particular immune response saw the expansion of a specific class of B cells, which is necessary to develop broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs).

“This vaccine candidate on its own is not expected to induce bnAbs; rather, it is designed to initiate the first step in that process. Eventually we hope to design and evaluate a series of vaccine candidates that would elicit several classes of bnAbs,”​ Laufer outlined.

With the speed at which a vaccine was developed against COVID-19 through the use of mRNA technology, Laufer cautioned against expecting a similar speed of result in this case, noting that the HIV virus is a ‘much more complex virus’ than the one causing COVID-19. In addition, the lack of natural protective immune response against HIV means that researchers do not have a model response to aim for.

The long-term goal for inducing broadly neutralizing antibodies to prevent acquisition of HIV is still ‘many more years’ away, Laufer added.

However, the rapid development of mRNA technology and its use for vaccine production “allows faster production of vaccine material for clinical trials and therefore allows us to advance promising concepts into clinical testing more quickly,”​ Laufer said.

Laufer concluded that this represents a ‘reason to have hope’ that these clinical trials mark progression on a path to an effective HIV vaccine, but that there remains much work to be done yet.

Related topics: Bio Developments

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