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Johnson & Johnson announces new study on HIV vaccine efficacy

The new HIV study will evaluate whether HIV-1 preventive vaccine is safe and able to reduce HIV infection incidence in women in Sub Saharan Africa.

Johnson & Johnson announced a new study on an HIV vaccine to be conducted by its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies together with a consortium of global partners including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and National Institutes of Health.

“Developing a vaccine against HIV is a top priority and our best hope for a world without AIDS. Finding an effective HIV vaccine to protect people at risk has been a major scientific challenge, but today there is new optimism that we can get there,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson.

Read: PrEP: A shield against AIDS

The study, also known as “Imbokodo”, will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the investigational mosaic HIV-1 preventive vaccine in reducing HIV infection among 2600 women in Sub Saharan Africa. “Imbokodo” is Zulu for “rock”.

Imbokodo will test a combination of two experimental vaccines to prevent HIV: Ad26.Mos4.HIV (Ad26 vaccine) and Clade C gp140 (protein vaccine).  The study will test whether the vaccine can prevent HIV infection, to provide more information about the safety of the study vaccine and to give clues about how a vaccine might work to prevent HIV infection.

“Our investigational vaccine is based on mosaic antigens that have been engineered using genes from a wide range of different HIV subtypes. The ultimate goal is to deliver a ‘global vaccine’ that could be deployed in any geographic region to help protect vulnerable populations at risk of infection.” said Johan Van Hoof, M.D., Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V. and Therapeutic Area Head, R&D, Infectious Diseases & Vaccines.

Currently, there are no licensed vaccines against HIV or Aids. According to Johnson & Johnson, the unique properties of the virus, including its ability to mutate rapidly and existence in multiple strains and subtypes has made the search for a vaccine a challenge.

Read: TB and HIV are co-endemic but TB is preventable and treatable

However, there have been small-scale studies to determine the safety of the vaccines as well as determine how the immune systems respond to the vaccines.

The first participants have begun receiving vaccinations in five countries, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe since October.  It targets women between 18 and 35 who are not infected with HIV, not pregnant or lactating.

According to Avert, these countries have the highest HIV epidemic in the world. In 2016, South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia had an estimated 7.1m, one million, 1.3m and 1.2m people living with HIV. Mozambique had 1.8m people living with HIV according to UNAIDS.

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