South Africa is set to begin trials later this year for a vaccine against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
Initial results of the vaccine have met the criteria needed to prove it could help fight the epidemic in Africa.
According to reports, the HIV virus, which is still prevalent across the continent, accounted for two-thirds of 2.1 million infections in 2015.
The trial, which is set to begin in November, comes on the back of a preliminary trial that took place in South Africa in 2015.
The aim was to test the safety and strength of immunity the vaccine could provide, before subjecting affected populations to larger-scale testing.
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The results of the small trial, known as HVTN100, were presented on Tuesday at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.
The precautionary trials, which involved the injecting of 250 healthy volunteers with either the vaccine or a placebo, were deemed to have met the criteria set for efficacy.
Gail Bekker, Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre in Cape Town, South Africa and president-elect of the International AIDS Society, who is leading the vaccine trials said:
“Four criteria were set as measures of its likely effectiveness, including the level of T-cell and antibody response to fight the virus if it were to infect.
“It gives the tick on all four, it does look promising and it should launch.
“We wanted to see a particular immune picture that would suggest that a big efficacy trial would be likely to yield results.
“A component known as adjuvant was added to stimulate stronger immunity.”
According to the initial reports, the HIV vaccine first showed a potential to protect against HIV, in a seminal trial in Thailand in 2009, with 31 percent protection against the virus.
HIV Vaccine Trials To Begin In South Africa
Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease, whose organisation sponsors the study asked:
“The obvious question is: Can we now replicate those results and can we improve upon them with greater breadth, depth and potency?”
The vaccine has since been improved for use in higher risk populations in sub-Saharan Africa where different sub-types of the virus also exist.
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Given the success of the preliminary study a larger-scale trial of the vaccine is now set to begin in November 2016, spanning three years with 5,400 people across four sites in South Africa.
The vaccine trials in Thailand showed a 60% protection against HIV in the first year, and a 31% protection after the second year.
This study hopes that with the addition of new components to the vaccines, the protection against HIV can be retained at 60% for a longer period of time.
The success of the upcoming trials may not result in its licensing, but will provide the evidence needed by manufacturers and vaccine regulators to take further steps.
A cure for HIV has been quite elusive so far, despite the extensive research and resources devoted to it.
A vaccine for HIV would be a major breakthrough step towards combating the disease on the continent.