I don’t know very much about the science behind vaccines, so I also don’t know if the amazing progress that led to the rapid development of multiple extremely effective COVID-19 vaccines is related to this. But either way, this is an unbelievable advancement in public health:
A novel vaccine approach for the prevention of HIV has shown promise in Phase I trials, reported IAVI and Scripps Research. According to the organisations, the vaccine successfully stimulated the production of the rare immune cells needed to generate antibodies against HIV in 97 percent of participants.
The vaccine is being developed to act as an immune primer, to trigger the activation of naïve B cells via a process called germline-targeting, as the first stage in a multi-step vaccine regimen to elicit the production of many different types of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs). Stimulating the production of bnAbs has been pursued as a holy grail in HIV for decades. It is hoped that these specialised blood proteins could attach to HIV surface proteins called spikes, which allow the virus to enter human cells, and disable them via a difficult-to-access regions that does not vary much from strain to strain.
“We and others postulated many years ago that in order to induce bnAbs, you must start the process by triggering the right B cells – cells that have special properties giving them potential to develop into bnAb-secreting cells,” explained Dr William Schief, a professor and immunologist at Scripps Research and executive director of vaccine design at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center, whose laboratory developed the vaccine. “In this trial, the targeted cells were only about one in a million of all naïve B cells. To get the right antibody response, we first need to prime the right B cells. The data from this trial affirms the ability of the vaccine immunogen to do this.”
At present, there are 38 million people around the world living with HIV.
If there’s one silver lining out of this pandemic, I hope that the technological development around vaccines can be used for a hyperprogram to wipe out multiple diseases over the next decade. This is exactly the kind of thing that a big federal infrastructure plan should take on. Take advantage of one public health crisis to make massive improvements in public health that could have widespread global implications over the next decade. Moreover, make it a central part of American foreign policy and distribute these new vaccines free to the Global South.