The vaccine that showed a vaccine can prevent HIV infection also has shown that the vaccine changed the virus in people who did become infected, according to research revealed today in the first plenary session of AIDS Vaccine 2012. The findings were the third revelation from a study that first generated excitement in the AIDS vaccine research field when it showed the combination product under investigation lowered the rate of HIV infection by an estimated 31.2 percent among those vaccinated with the product compared to those given a placebo. Subsequent analysis indicated information about the specific immune response induced by the vaccine. The work revealed today indicated that that response left an impact on viruses that escaped the antibodies.
The research, published in the journal Nature, topped off a morning that had been dominated with discussion of other AIDS prevention research — by Salim Abdool Karim, leader of the CAPRISA study that showed the promise of an antiretroviral-based vaginal microbicide to prevent HIV acquisition among women, by Jared Baeten, a leader of the PrEP study that showed effectiveness of oral antiretroviral medicines in preventing HIV acquisition, and Myron Cohen, who led work that showed last year that treatment suppressing viral loads in those living with HIV effectively prevents transmission of the virus.
While the research revealed this morning lacks the immediate, real world implications of the other breakthroughs discussed, the findings supported hope that the vaccine field is accumulating knowledge of how the immune system might be used to target the virus. The field has been stymied by the diversity of the virus, and by the lack of any existing, effective, lasting natural suppression of the virus.
“This is not going to happen tomorrow,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said. “The timetable for vaccine trials on products we already have is quite sobering.”
He added, however: “If we have the dream of eradicating HIV, we need a vaccine.”