Zimbabwe selected for groundbreaking HIV vaccine research
From Thandeka Moyo in Chicago, USA
ZIMBABWE will participate in the first ever HIV vaccine research trials conducted in four continents to establish if an anti-body mediated prevention (AMP) can help to end HIV.
HIV and Aids continue to kill thousands of people annually in Sub-Saharan Africa and the disease has no known cure.
A vaccine may help to eradicate the pandemic globally through preventing new infections.
The study, researchers say, will test whether giving people an investigational anti-HIV anti-body called VRC01 as an intravenous infusion every 8 weeks is safe, tolerable and effective at preventing HIV infection.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most affected by HIV with 25 million adults and children living with the disease.
Zimbabwe whose HIV prevalence rate is 14 percent, is the fifth highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In an interview at the world HIV Research for Prevention Conference in Chicago United States of America, Dr Nyaradzo Mmgodi, the University of Zimbabwe and University of California San Francisco (UZ-UCSF) project manager said South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana and Kenya would also participate in the research dubbed the HVTN702.
“We’ve never seen cases of polio in Zimbabwe because we’ve an effective vaccine against it and that’s the aim with HIV. The most effective public health intervention to deal with infectious diseases is vaccines and we would want to bring an end to HIV,” said Dr Mmgodi.
“We’re excited about the study which is going to take us about 15 to 20 years. In the meantime, we are promoting Prep (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), vaginal ring and other interventions to prevent and treat HIV.
“It’s a big study being conducted on four continents, North and South America, Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa and will incorporate 4 200 women across the continents and 1 500 women in the seven African countries,” she said.
Dr Mmgodi said the anti-body concept was taken from a group of people known as elite controllers who can manage and suppress HIV without treatment.
“One of these elite controllers was found to have VRCO1 like antibodies which help them control HIV without treatment. This antibody was taken and a similar anti-body was manufactured in the lab by the Vaccines Research Centre. Our readers must understand that this anti-body which we will be testing didn’t come from a HIV infected. this VROC1 was manufactured to resemble the anti-body which was found in the elite controller,” she said.”
Dr Mmgodi said during the research, the anti body would be given as an infusion to each participant for 22 months. The participants will get a total of 10 infusions once every eight weeks.
“They will visit the clinic monthly for examinations so we also check for HIV and other health related conditions. This will be a proof of concept study and we really want to prove if anti bodies can help.”
Dr Mmgodi said to date more than 500 participants in America have used the VROC1, which has proven to be safe with no complications.
In Sub- Saharan Africa, the research has started in South Africa and Botswana.
“We have received most of our approvals for Zimbabwe and Kenya so we should be starting soon. The information gathered from AMP will eventually help us bring an end to HIV so that for once after decades we can focus on other diseases.”
At present HIV infected people are taking anti- retroviral medication to suppress the virus. Other interventions that have been proven so far include Prep. This is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected and this is yet to be rolled out in Zimbawe.
By reducing new HIV infections, Aids vaccination could reduce total resources needed to sustain effective prevention and treatment programmes.
The HIV Research for Prevention 2016 is the world’s only global scientific meeting dedicated exclusively to biomedical HIV prevention research.
It works to promote interaction and debate among attendees and to break down silos between prevention research specialties.
About 1 419 researchers, advocates, clinicians, policy makers and private sector partners from 41 countries attended the five-day conference, which ended last Friday.