SILVER BULLET?

Kenya to test 'all-powerful' HIV vaccine this month

New vaccine developed by Oxford potentially applicable to HIV strains worldwide

In Summary

• Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board said it has already authorised the trial,  what remains is the rollout.

• Trial will involve 88 healthy, HIV-negative adults, aged 18-55 and not considered high risk. They will receive one dose and a booster at four weeks.

 

Dr Walter Jaoko, Kavi director and trial principal investigator, said new vaccine can teach cells to attacks parts of HIV virus that seldom or never change, even when it mutates.
EXPERT: Dr Walter Jaoko, Kavi director and trial principal investigator, said new vaccine can teach cells to attacks parts of HIV virus that seldom or never change, even when it mutates.
Image: FILE

A new HIV vaccine candidate that aims to neutralise nearly all strains of the virus will be trialled in Kenya beginning this month.

Until now, scientists have been unable to make an effective HIV vaccine, partly because the virus mutates so quickly, so it’s hard to create a vaccine to work against it.

The candidate to be trialled was developed by the University of Oxford.

The trial will be conducted by the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative-Institute of Clinical Research, a local organisation with centres at Kangemi and at Kenyatta National Hospital.

Dr Walter Jaoko, the Kavi director and trial principal investigator, said the new candidate’s strength is its ability to teach the body’s cells to attack the parts of HIV that seldom or never change, even when the virus mutates.

This Phase 1 trial simply seeks to confirm the vaccine is safe and can stimulate the immune system.

“Preventive vaccines, especially those that provide durable protection against all major HIV subtypes, would be a powerful tool for people not able to access or use existing prevention options,” Dr Jaoko said in a statement shared by University of Oxford.

“This is why it remains a priority that we design and evaluate novel vaccine approaches,” he added.

The vaccine candidate — known as HIVconsvX— was developed by the University of Oxford and will be trialled in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. The first doses already have been delivered in Zambia.

The trial will involve 88 healthy, HIV-negative adults, aged 18-55, who are considered not to be at high risk of infection.

They will receive one dose of the vaccine, followed by a booster dose at four weeks.

While most HIV vaccine candidates work by inducing antibodies generated by B-cells, HIVconsvX induces the immune system’s powerful T-cells.

It targets them to the highly vulnerable regions of HIV common to most HIV variants.

This makes the new vaccine potentially applicable for HIV strains in any geographical region.

Dr Vincent Muturi-Kioi, medical director at International Aids Vaccine Initiative, said, “It is crucial we have a diverse pipeline of HIV vaccine candidates that target both the antibody and T-cell arms of the immune system.

“HIVconsvX represents an exciting new hypothesis in engaging the killer T-cell arm to prevent HIV infection.”

At present, prevention of HIV in Kenya largely focuses on behavioural and biomedical interventions such as voluntary medical male circumcision, condom use and anti-retroviral drugs used prior to exposure (Prep).

The researchers hope to report results of the trial at the end of 2022.

Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board said it has already authorised the trial and what remains is the rollout.

Several HIV trials are ongoing in Kenya. Kemri scientists Prof Elizabeth Bukusi and Dr Nelly Mugo are also trialling a once-a-month drug to prevent HIV infection.

 

(Edited by V. Graham)