‘Heroes’ take part in SA trial that could lead to licensing of world's first HIV vaccine

30 November 2016 - 15:24 By Katharine Child

“Heroes”. That’s the word a researcher used to describe the 5400 volunteers who will take part in the world’s first HIV vaccine efficacy study to launch in seven years.

Image: ©GreenApple78/Istock.com

The trial of the experimental HIV vaccine regimen kicked off on Wednesday‚ ahead of World Aids Day on December 1.

If successful‚ it could lead to the licensing of the world's first HIV vaccine. Professor Glenda Gray‚ the head of the Medical Research Council‚ will lead the programme to vaccinate 5400 South Africans‚ aged 18 to 35‚ at 15 sites around the country.

The cost of the trial is estimated at $127-million and is co-funded by the National Institute of Health in the US and The Gates Foundation.

Gray said the council has been involved in vaccine research since 2002‚ and people always seemed willing to be part of trials.

“They want to tell their grandchildren‚ ‘That injection on the counter at clinic - I was part of that’‚” Gray added.

Speaking at the launch at the Setschabe Research Centre in Soshanguve‚ one the main US researchers‚ Larry Corey‚ described it as a “neat day”.

While scientists deserve some credit‚ Corey said: “The real heroes are the participants taking part in the trial.”

The experimental vaccine is derived from one used in a Thai trial in the early 2000s‚ which reduced the risk of HIV by 31% after three years.

Scientists have been working since 2009 to modify the Thai vaccine to South Africa and working out how best to carry out a trial‚ Corey said.

The participants will be given five injections over a year‚ and then monitored for 36 months to see if the vaccine works.

If its effects wear off after a year‚ it could be given yearly‚ as flu injections are‚ to high-risk sectors of the population such as adolescents in schools‚ said Gray.

Another researcher‚ Dr Mookho Malahleha‚ stressed that participants in the trial are not given real HIV.

The vaccine contains synthetic elements manufactured to mimic HIV which then trick the body's immune system into building a response to the virus.

– TMG Digital/The Times