Moderna set to begin clinical trials for an HIV vaccine

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A health worker checks a box of the Moderna Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine donated by the US, during a booster vaccination drive at the Zainoel Abidin hospital in Banda Aceh on August 9, 2021. (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP) (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP via Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Moderna is set to begin clinical trials of an HIV vaccine that uses mRNA technology, the same technology that led to the success of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The study will begin next month and involve the first human trials of an mRNA vaccine for HIV.

HIV remains to be a leading cause of death for some groups around the world and in the United States, four decades after the start of the epidemic.

According to the CDC, about 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, and nearly 16,000 people died from HIV-related illnesses in 2018.

“We have been trying to have an HIV vaccine and make an HIV vaccine almost since the beginning of the epidemic because if you could have a shot that would either prevent HIV or those who have HIV get them off treatment which is called therapeutic vaccination, it would be an incredible thing and all vaccine candidates up to date in large trials today have failed,” Dr. Monica Gandhias, infectious disease doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, said.  

However, Gandhi explains, there’s now a glimmer of hope. 

She says this HIV vaccine is expected to work in the same way as the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The idea of this mRNA technology is to take a piece of the virus, you know for COVID it’s the spike protein and for HIV it’s little pieces of the HIV virus and you yourself make the protein in your body which makes you have high levels of that protein and you raise an immune response against it,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

Next month, Moderna will begin the HIV vaccine trials in 56 adults ranging in ages from 18 to 50-years-old, all of whom do not have HIV.

The participants will test two combinations of the vaccine and be monitored for signs of immune response and any adverse effects.

“This idea when you’ve already started it in primate studies and it looks good and now we’re moving it over to human trials in the hope that we, the person who gets the vaccine makes their own immune response which are called broadly neutralizing antibodies and you yourself literally have antibodies in your bloodstream that will repel HIV if you ever get exposed so it is BIG news and very exciting,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

The trials are expected to end in the spring of 2023.

Doctors call this a tremendous achievement for not just a COVID or future HIV vaccine but vaccines as a whole and said we could see a lot more uses of this mRNA technology in the future.

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