The ongoing HIV vaccine trials at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) is still viable and promising even after the famous ‘Imbokodo study’ was halted, UVRI scientists have said.
Conducted in five sub-Saharan African countries, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the Imbokodo study is one of the biggest HIV vaccine efficacy studies at 23 sites and it involved about 2,600 women aged 18-25, aiming at establishing if the vaccines that were being evaluated in this study would protect participants from HIV infections.
However, on August 31, 202, Johnson & Johnson and its partners announced that the study did not significantly reduce the overall risk of HIV acquisition among the participants.
UVRI’s Eugene Ruzagira, a senior scientist, told ChimpReports that the HIV vaccine research will continue despite the disappointing news.
“Obviously, this is disappointing news to the HIV vaccine field, participants, and the general population. However, from every study, whether successful or not, we learn new things that we didn’t know and we use that knowledge and experience to move the field forward,” he said.
He gave more insights about the ongoing PrEPVacc study;
The first participants in the clinical trial who were enrolled in December 2020, were from the Masaka site. However, Prof Ruzagira said that recently, they opened in Mbeya, and 2 other sites will later be opened in Dar es Salaam and South Africa (Durban).
Ruzagira said that they are targeting around 1,700 HIV-negative participants aged between 18-40 years from the four sites and a total of 187 participants have been recruited; 157 from Masaka and 30 from Mbeya. The study is expected to end in 2023.
“PrEPVacc is also aiming to see if the vaccines we are evaluating can stop the HIV infection, and stop participants from getting infected,” he said.
Adding: “We will use the lessons learned from this Imbokodo study to improve, learn and continue evaluating more vaccines.”
HIV Vaccine more complicated than covid-19 vaccines?
Prof Ruzagira noted that in terms of vaccine development for the two diseases, the difference is in the virus that is being targeted.
“For HIV, the target is on the human immunodeficiency virus which is quite complicated. When it enters the human body, it takes over the immune system and destroys it. But, it also changes a lot, so that it can survive. So targeting something that is changing all the time is part of the problem,” he said.
He also said that Covid-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2, which is much simpler to understand and also to target, “which to some extent explains why it has been possible to get covid-19 vaccines faster than we can do for HIV.”
Meanwhile, in absence of vaccines, other HIV prevention tools such as Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), condoms, male circumcision are being encouraged amidst the high infection rate in sub-Saharan Africa.