- Researchers are using Moderna’s mRNA vaccine technology to target HIV.
- The eventual goal is to stimulate the immune system to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies that target multiple HIV strains.
- Over the past few decades, finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent HIV infection has proven to be very challenging.
An early stage clinical trial of an mRNA-based vaccine to preven HIV could begin in September 2021, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine clinical trial registry.
This vaccine uses technology developed by biotech company Moderna. It’s the same technology used for this company’s highly effective COVID-19 vaccine.
This trial, which builds on earlier research by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and Scripps Research, would test the first stage of a multistep vaccine regimen.
The eventual goal is to stimulate the immune system to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies that target multiple HIV strains.
Additional clinical trials will be needed before a vaccine capable of preventing HIV infection is available.
Targeting multiple strains of HIV
mRNA vaccines train the immune system to produce antibodies that target the peplomer protein (sp8xik8xe pr8xote8xin) and prevent the virus from infecting cells.
HIV also has a spike-shaped virus protein known as Env, or the envelope protein. The shape of this protein varies among different strains of the virus, making it harder to target with antibodies.
In the early 1990s, scientists first isolated broadly neutralizing antibodies that target these non-changing, or conserved, areas of the HIV envelope protein. Additional antibodies have been identified since then.
However, going from vaccine to broadly neutralizing antibodies requires multiple steps.
Schief and his colleagues at Scripps and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative developed a vaccine that stimulates the immune system to produce precursor cells needed to start this process.
Results released earlier this year from a phase 1 clinical trial showed that 97% of participants who received this vaccine showed the desired immune response.
This is the first step of several steps that researchers hope will lead to broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV.