Experimental mRNA vaccine for HIV shows promise in animals

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(AFP)— An experimental HIV vaccine based on mRNA — the same technology used in two highly successful COVID-19 vaccines — has shown promise in experiments in mice and monkeys, according to a study published Thursday in Nature Medicine.

The research, which was carried out by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Moderna and other institutions, demonstrated that the vaccine was safe and prompted desired antibody and cellular immune responses against an HIV-like virus.

Rhesus macaques that received a priming shot followed by multiple boosters had a 79 per cent lower per-exposure risk of infection by simian-human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV) compared to unvaccinated animals.

“Despite nearly four decades of effort by the global research community, an effective vaccine to prevent HIV remains an elusive goal,” said NIAID director and co-author Anthony Fauci, in a statement.

“This experimental mRNA vaccine combines several features that may overcome shortcomings of other experimental HIV vaccines and thus represents a promising approach.”

Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) COVID vaccines work by providing cells with genetic instructions to assemble the spike protein of the coronavirus, which trains the immune system to be prepared for the actual virus.

Similarly, the experimental HIV vaccine in the new research delivers coded instructions for two HIV proteins: envelope (Env) and another called Gag.

Muscle cells in an inoculated animal build the two proteins, producing virus-like particles that are dotted with many copies of Env on their surface.

These particles cannot cause infection or disease, but are able to stimulate an immune response to HIV.

– Closely mimics infection –

In mice, two injections of the vaccine evoked “neutralizing” antibodies — Y-shaped proteins that latch on to the surface of the virus and prevent it from invading cells.

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