The new vaccine against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) appears to trigger critical and elusive antibodies against the pathogen. This promising result stems from a study published in the journal Cell, conducted by scientists at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI). Led by Barton F. Haynes, the team developed a novel pharmacological approach to protect the body from HIV, tested in a trial that began in 2019. The study involved 20 healthy and HIV-positive participants. Fifteen received two of the four scheduled doses of the experimental vaccine, while five received three doses.

After the first cycle of two immunizations, the vaccine was linked to a 95 percent serologic response rate and a 100 percent T cell response rate. The study further revealed that the new vaccine could stimulate antibodies to combat various strains of the pathogen within a few weeks, triggering an effective immune response. The vaccine candidate targets a part of the HIV-1 outer envelope called the membrane-proximal external region (MPER), which remains stable despite mutations.

“Our work represents a significant advance in the fight against HIV,” said Haynes. “In the next steps, we aim to introduce more potent neutralizing antibodies against other sites of the virus.” One participant experienced a non-life-threatening allergic reaction, leading to a temporary suspension of the trial. Subsequent investigations suggested that the side effect was caused by an additive in the vaccine.

“To achieve a broadly neutralizing antibody,” added Wilton Williams, a colleague and co-author with Haynes, “a series of events typically needs to occur, which usually takes several years post-infection. The challenge is to replicate these necessary events in a shorter timeframe through a vaccine. This new vaccine molecule could indeed help elicit neutralizing antibodies within a few weeks.”

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