Promising HIV Vaccine Receives Massive Funding
Posted: Jan 9th, 2017 at 12:00AM
The quest for an HIV vaccine has been on for a long time now, and here and there sparks of promise have been shown but nothing seems to have panned out correctly. In 2015 alone, the death numbers from the illness reached over a million and it's estimated that nearly double that number were infected.
HIV is a pandemic in its truest form, a world-spanning disease with an often lethal outcome. Development of a reliable vaccine could make the disease a thing of the past, however, and the recent boost to funding for vaccine efforts is a great step in the right direction.
The New Vaccine
The new vaccine has received $17.3 million in funding in order to move into Phase II clinical trials.
The person in charge of the project is Dr. Shan Lu who has a decade long of history working to create a vaccine effective against HIV. The "prime-boost" method was created in the late 1980s and has received a vote of confidence even from the Bill Gates Foundation in the past, in the form of a cash investment into the project.
HIV is a complicated virus, primarily attacking the immune system. This has made it difficult to develop a proper vaccine since the cells which would normally do the fighting are the ones being infected and destroyed in massive numbers.
The idea is to develop antibodies which target the part of the virus which attaches it to cells, thus preventing the infection in the first place and allowing the person's body to fight it effectively. It's a noble goal, and no one is alone in it. There are almost a hundred different institutions currently working on an HIV vaccine, spread across 19 nations.
The promising new approach has finally been cleared for its first real testing after proving to be safe in a number of individuals already. The cash injection into the program just makes things that much easier on the researchers.
The approach is a novel one, to say the least. It combines two different forms of previous vaccines in order to produce longer lasting, higher quality antibodies than either of them can achieve alone. It has already passed through Phase I testing, which is designed to take a look at the side effects that a vaccine or medicine produces in healthy volunteers.
Essentially, the first injection acts as a "primer" to turn on the body's immune system and get the body ready to fight a disease, and the second "booster injection causes the body to develop the antibodies necessary to keep things at bay.
The approach is a good one, and clinical trials have proven to be quite positive up until this point.
The funding is primarily going to be used for the standardization and validation of the vaccine in order to make sure that the vaccine is a repeatable product without any kind of room for error in its production.
The results look promising, and the influx of money is exactly what's needed to see if this train of thought is worth following to the end. Regardless of the outcome, it represents a huge step towards developing a solution to the pandemic.
If the Phase II trial proves to be efficacious, then we're looking at the combination of vaccines moving into Phase III testing and getting that much closer to being proven as an actual solution to the HIV problem.
There is no cure for the disease, but by preventing its spread in the first place it's sure to become increasingly rare over time until it's finally eliminated altogether.
The Ultimate Goal: Elimination of HIV
The United Nations has set a goal for eliminating the virus by 2030 and the only real way to achieve that goal is to develop a long-lasting, highly effective vaccine in order to protect those who haven't been infected.
While AIDS is no longer the death sentence it used to be in the first world, it still causes a ton of deaths each year. In some cases, the retro-viral treatments fail due to a person's genetic make-up, but more frequently it's simply impossible in developing countries for patients to get their hands on the medicines which will keep them alive.
In addition to that, while the treatments are effective at helping a patient to keep stable they definitely don't stop the spread of the disease. One of the most common methods of infection is through sexual contact with an infected person, and this can represent a huge decrease in the quality of life for an infected person.
Vaccines have proven to be the most effective measure against diseases in the past, with some diseases such as smallpox being almost entirely eradicated in "the wild." Herd immunity further serves to reinforce the elimination of the targeted disease, since fewer people will be capable of contracting it. Even those who can't take the vaccine or who the vaccine proved ineffective in can gain some effects of the protection of the masses by simply avoiding exposure in their day-to-day life.
It can be hard for scientists to get the funding even for this sort of vital research, however, but Dr. Lu is already talking about developing methods for scaling up the production so that useful amounts of the vaccine can be produced if it proves to be viable.
Even in the event that it is not viable, it may very well lead to a vaccine in the near future which can take care of the HIV virus and make it a thing of the past.
HIV is a huge problem across the world, knowing no real bounds in who it affects although it hits hardest in some developing nations. It quite often proves to be fatal for the individual who has been infected as well. The development of a workable vaccine which can be produced on a massive scale is no longer just a pipe dream, and it seems to be coming closer and closer to reality thanks to the efforts of researchers.
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