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HIV Vaccine Awareness Day 2019

May 15, 2019

For decades, volunteers, community members, health professionals and scientists have worked to fill a toolbox with methods to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, driving down incidence of new infections and increasing the life span and quality of people living with HIV. With advancements in antiretroviral therapies and biomedical prevention options like PrEP, and other exciting innovations like long-acting microbicide devices in the pipeline, there has never been a more hopeful time that we can defeat HIV.

But just as no toolbox is complete without a hammer, the absence of an HIV vaccine is glaring. Vaccines are among the most successful, cost-effective public health interventions available. A safe, effective HIV vaccine is key to controlling and ending this epidemic that continues to kill nearly one million people a year.

The U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP) and its parent Institute, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, have more than 100 years of vaccine research development expertise. Our researchers and global partners have been focusing on promising new HIV vaccine strategies and preparing for the next step to defeat this epidemic.

Ten years ago, MHRP announced the findings from the landmark RV144 “Thai study,” the first clinical trial to show a vaccine regimen was safe and modestly effective in preventing HIV infection. Although the vaccine was not effective enough to license for general use, the trial gave the field hope that preventing HIV infection was possible with a vaccine. This vaccine regimen serves as the foundation for the HVTN 702 efficacy trial ongoing in southern Africa. This HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, the world waits in hope for findings from HVTN 702 and a second large HIV vaccine efficacy clinical trial, HVTN 705/HPX2008, also known as Imbokodo. Results from those studies are expected in 2020 and 2021.

In parallel, MHRP scientists have been building on findings from RV144 to understand and develop improvements in vaccine breadth and duration in order to protect more people for longer periods of time. One strategy is to utilize additional vaccine boosts, as results from MHRP have shown that adding additional vaccinations long after the original vaccine series can improve immune responses. MHRP researchers have also begun to explore fractional dosing, that is, using smaller doses of vaccine still capable of eliciting immune response. This adjustment could prove critical to ensuring adequate vaccine supply when an effective product is licensed.

Finally, MHRP is excited to develop a family of new adjuvants developed by our scientists, called the Army Liposome Formulation (ALF).  Adjuvants are vaccine components that help activate the immune system and improve immune responses. We look forward to evaluating the effect of these promising new compounds on vaccine responses in clinical trials across the globe in the near future.

We’d like to thank the countless partners who contribute to this research progress against HIV—especially the volunteers who participate in our studies in the U.S. and around the world.  Working together, we will continue to use available tools to help curb the HIV epidemic and accelerate progress towards safe, globally-effective vaccine.

Dr. Robert Gramzinski
MHRP Director

Dr. Sandhya Vasan
Director, HJF component of MHRP