It was 1983 when the human immunodeficiency virus was isolated for the first time, after many battles had been fought against the disease. Since then, many years of research have been put into the discovery of a vaccine or a cure against the lethal syndrome.
It was only in 1995 that the FDA approved the first protease inhibitor beginning a new era of highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART). Since then many chronic treatments have been made available, emerging with less complications and side effects.
Finally in 2012, the FDA approved PrEP for HIV-negative people to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. But however the advance in this new discovery, this form of prevention consists of a chronic daily tablet and the costs associated in many countries, is quite elevated.
And yet, no definite treatment or one time vaccine have yet been made available to combat this pandemic reaching an estimated 40 million individuals worldwide.
The search for an effective vaccine
For many years, pharmaceuticals have been creating efforts in search for a safe and effective vaccine in desperate attempt to erradicate the preoccupying 40 million prevalence and to prevent the growing 1.1 - 2.2 million yearly incidence worldwide.
Announced in December 2020, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of the Johnson & Johnson group, announced its anti-HIV vaccine is entering Phase 3 of the clinical trials.
Antonio Fernandez, one of the pharmaceutical's investigator, explained to "El Pais" that this vaccine against HIV uses the same technology as it has been using for the covid-19 vaccine. In other words, an adenovirus modified to carry the DNA of its most representative proteins into the subject's cells so that the body creates antibodies against them. In reality, they are two variants of the vaccine, says the specialist: one encoded with three proteins and the other with four, called mosaic.
Clinical trials can take up to 36 months
These drugs have passed safety tests and have been shown to generate antibodies, as revealed in the article published in the specialized magazine The Lancet. Now they will be tested in a real environment, a study that could last between 24 to 36 months.
For phase 3 of the clinical trials, volunteers have already started to be recruited. In total, there will be 3800 people worldwide who will test this potential vaccine against HIV, responsible for AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, as explained by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus "attacks and destroys the immune system of our organism, destroying the defense mechanisms that protect us from diseases", as stated in the website.
Over a decade ago, in 2009, phase 3 testing of a potential HIV vaccine failed, as the drug developed at the time only prevented 30% of HIV infections. The reason for the difficulty in finding a vaccine is due to the fact that it is a virus that has a great variability, changing its characteristics and "escaping" when it is confronted with the cells of the immune system, explains Jose Molto, from the Fight against AIDS Foundation, based in Barcelona, one of the doctors who will participate in this new phase of testing.
Additionally, explains this doctor, the reason why antiviral treatments started to be effective 25 years ago is due to the fact that there was a combination of several that managed to interrupt the virus reproduction cycle.
Even though we can still expect 2-3 years before the vaccine concludes this study phase, it is still a spectrum of hope in the combat of one of the main pandemics of the XXI century.