First came RV144, the clinical HIV vaccine trial in Thailand that became the first such trial to end in modest success, with a candidate that offered some protection against the virus. That was big news, although among the work ahead that it pointed to — in addition to seeing if it could offer stronger and longer protection — was to see if it would work elsewhere.
That would include sub-Saharan Africa, where the burden of HIV is greatest, where the virus is slightly different, and where on average, the people are bigger. So what is the news from HVTN 097, a trial which took the regimen tested in Thailand, and showed it to be safe and able to elicit an immune response when tested among 100 South African adults?
It is good news, but it is not big news. Not tested against the virus itself, the regimen was not proven to offer protection against HIV here. The regimen, in any case, still has to overcome those other things — it has to last longer, and be stronger. More than anything, the news out of HVTN is a welcome absence of bad news. It means not having to go back to the drawing board. And in the beset world of vaccine development, that is as close as can be to big news
And, as South African HVTN investigator Dr. Glenda Gray said today, the news paves the way for further work here, where it is needed most. Some day, that could lead to very big news.