A team of Spanish researchers say they have made an important breakthrough in HIV research, developing a new vaccine against the virus that is significantly more effective than earlier attempts. Advancing vaccine research could eventually eliminate the need for the expensive methods currently used to treat HIV-positive individuals.
Researchers tested the vaccine on randomly selected HIV-positive individuals who were already taking highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) medications, the most scientifically advanced form of treatment currently available to combat the virus. They wanted to see if, rather than simply suppressing the effects of the virus with outside treatment, their vaccine could lead the human immune system to coordinate its own defense against HIV — and they succeeded, seeing some subjects’ HIV viral loads drop more than 90 percent after 12 weeks of the trial:
“What we did was give instructions to the immune system so it could learn to destroy the virus, which it does not do naturally,” said Felipe Garcia, one of the scientists in the team at Barcelona University’s Hospital Clinic.
The therapeutic vaccine, a shot that treats an existing disease rather than preventing it, was safe and led to a dramatic drop in the amount of HIV virus detected in some patients, said the study, published Wednesday in Science Translation Medicine. [...]
The vaccine allowed patients temporarily to live without taking multiple medicines on a daily basis, which created hardship for patients, could have toxic side-effects over the long term and had a high financial price, the team said.
“This investigation opens the path to additional studies with the final goal of achieving a functional cure — the control of HIV replication for long periods or an entire life without anti-retroviral treatment,” the researchers said in a statement.
The researchers did find that the effectiveness of the vaccination declined after the first year, when patients had to return to their previous HAART treatment. Still, though, they noted this breakthrough is the culmination of seven years of research — and they will spend the next several years working to improve the vaccine even further.
Over the past year, the global community has made significant strides forward in its mission to eradicate the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This latest scientific progress builds upon previous research and policy advances that have contributed to better tests and treatments for HIV, better health care for HIV-positive individuals, and ever-increasing life expectancy rates for those living with the virus.