United States diversified health care conglomerate Johnson & Johnson could be closing in on a potential vaccine for HIV, in what would be a monumental achievement in the health care industry nearly forty years after individuals first contracted what was then a mysterious illness.
Preliminary data were presented yesterday in Paris at the IAS COnference on HIV Science that showed promising results in 393 healthy volunteers.
The research is focused on what is known as mosaic based vaccines. These vaccines are created from the genes of various viruses around the world. Antigens are then developed from these genes. The mosaic approach is hoped to be able to combat one of the most challenging aspects of fighting the HIV virus – its extraordinary diversity. As the name “mosaic” suggests, the goal is to provide immunity roust enough to provide immunity to various strains of the virus. Previous vaccine attempts, including a notable one in Thailand, did not have the breadth to inoculate recipients against the numerous variations of the virus found across the globe.
Despite the substantial optimism, much work remains before any potential vaccine could be marketed. The next phase, phase two, will allow researchers to determine if the vaccine is safe to use in people. Phase three trials will then determine the actual efficacy in a larger sample of people in high-risk areas of Africa. A vaccine could optimistically appear within a decade if the research progresses as planned.
HIV likely originated in Africa in the early twentieth century after a simian immune deficiency virus mutated and crossed species. While specific cases have been identified retrospectively, the first understanding of the new virus did not occur until about 1980 when cases began appearing in large cities in the United States such as San Francisco and New York. An HIV diagnosis was a death sentence until the 1990s when cocktails of retroviral drugs turned the illness into a chronic, rather than fatal, one.
About 37 million people are living with HIV in the world today and about 35 million have died from the virus since its emergence.