It’s the first preventative HIV vaccine based on a “genetically modified killed whole virus” — which means that subjects are infected with a strain of HIV that has been modified to trigger an immune response rather than devolving into AIDS. A similar technique is used for the immunizations against polio, influenza, Hepatitis A, and rabies. Genetically-engineered vaccines tend to be safer and cheaper to produce.
Researchers gave the new vaccine to HIV-infected men and women who weren’t yet displaying symptoms from the virus, and monitored their responses to the treatment between March 2012 to August 2013. Their subjects didn’t experience any negative side effects, which means the vaccine has cleared its first major hurdle and can move on to more testing. Dr. Chil-Yong Kang, who developed the new treatment along with his team at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is hopeful that he’s on track to create the first commercially-available vaccine for the virus.
But the vaccine is currently in its very early stages. It will need to undergo Phase II testing, which will measure its actual effectiveness in prompting a successful immune response, followed by further Phase III testing. If all goes well, the biotech firm that’s sponsoring the vaccine believe it may be available within the next five years.
Of course, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to effectively preventing the spread of HIV. Scientists continually urge people to keep these research breakthroughs in context. But progress is inching forward. A different type of vaccine, one that works to treat the existing virus rather than preventing it, also recently showed promise. Scientific advances earlier this year suggest that aggressively treating early cases of HIV could lead to a “functional cure” among some patients. Better tests and treatments are helping to contain the threat of the virus, and better health care for HIV-positive individuals is ensuring that their life expectancy continues to be extended.
And even though scientists are still working to develop effective treatments to prevent people from transmitting or developing HIV, there are already extremely successful methods of preventing the virus from being passed from mother to child. In June, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that one million HIV-free babies have now been born to mothers who have the virus — bringing us closer to a future AIDS-free generation.