Four HIV vaccines to be tested in South Africa

Summary:An international consortium of researchers will be testing 4 new vaccines simultaneously in KwaZulu-Natal province, where one in 5 adults is infected with HIV.

In a region in South Africa, one in 5 adults is infected with HIV. That’s where an international research consortium plans to begin testing 4 new HIV vaccines simultaneously in 2014. Technology Review reports.

The tests will take place at K-RITH, a new research center opening this month in Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal province. Because the infection rate is so high, it could take as little as 2 years and 2,000 patients to figure out if a given vaccine works.

There have been 3 large tests of HIV vaccines so far – from VaxGen, Merck, and Sanofi -- but none succeeded in protecting people from becoming infected. "Our plan is to take things forward in parallel and not in sequence,” says Harvard’s Bruce Walker, a founding scientist at K-RITH.

Vaccines work by inoculating people with dead or weakened forms of a virus, or with specific molecules present on the virus's surface. Then the immune system learns to recognize and attack that microbe.

Developing a vaccine against HIV, a retrovirus, has proved difficult because it can mutate quickly and evade the protective effects of a vaccine.

Highlights:

  • One of the new vaccines to be tested is a canarypox virus engineered to express 2 surface proteins of HIV, chosen based on the virus's weaknesses.
  • Another is a protein that's been twisted to mimic HIV's shape.
  • The most unusual of the new candidates is a synthetic vaccine made from fatty nanoparticles packed with genetic material.

South Africa has more than 17 percent of the world's HIV cases. According to Walker, the size of the epidemic in South Africa alone is reason enough to spend $100 million on a vaccine.

[Via Technology Review]

Image by ad-vantage via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation

About

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.

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