New Hope for an HIV Vaccine?

May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day

It may seem odd that researchers developed COVID-19 vaccines in such a short time when a preventive vaccine for HIV has remained elusive for almost four decades. The short answer: COVID-19 mutates much, much less frequently than untreated HIV does and so it becomes an easier target. Several HIV vaccine candidates have shown moderate success in trials, but none has been effective enough to be brought to market.

There’s another reason that accounts for the speed with which COVID-19 vaccines were produced—the mRNA technology responsible for getting COVID-19 vaccines to market so quickly was developed in labs researching an HIV vaccine. In encouraging news, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched a trial of three vaccine candidates for HIV using the same mRNA technology. The trial is expected to conclude in July 2023.

May 18 is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day. This day is a chance to thank the volunteers, community members, health professionals, and scientists working together to find a safe and effective preventive HIV vaccine. It is also a time to educate communities about the importance of preventive HIV vaccine research.

The need for an effective vaccine is urgent. In 2020, 1.5 million people around the world acquired HIV. That’s a rate of nearly three people per minute. The potential benefit of an HIV vaccine as prevention would be lifelong immunity, without the challenges of adhering to prevention strategies like PrEP or negotiating condom use with a sexual partner.

While amfAR’s primary focus is on developing a cure for HIV, the Foundation continues to support vaccine research studies. For example, we recently awarded a Mathilde Krim Fellowship to Aleksandar Antanasijevic, Ph.D., of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, who is using a sophisticated imaging technology called cryoEMPEM to address the obstacles that make developing an HIV vaccine so challenging.

We wish Dr. Antanasijevic every success in his research. And on HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, we salute him, his colleagues, and all the other researchers worldwide who are striving to realize the 40-year dream of a safe and effective vaccine for HIV.

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