A new HIV vaccine is soon to be clinically tested that could potentially prevent the disease in the country, if an application by the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) to the SA Health Products Regulation Authority gets the green light.
The trial – PrEPVacc – seeks to evaluate the safety and efficacy of a number of vaccine components versus a placebo to prevent HIV infection. The study would enrol a minimum of 1668 eligible adults aged 18 to 40 through collaborating clinical research centres in four countries: South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.
Asked how significant the trials are for the country, SAMRC president and chief executive Professor Glenda Gray said: “All the countries taking part in PrEPVacc are committed to reducing and ultimately stopping all new HIV infections, and a successful HIV vaccine is crucial for prevention.
“PrEPVacc is a very efficient way of doing an HIV-prevention trial – it’s actually testing two different ways of preventing HIV at the same time. There are the two different vaccine combinations being trialled and a preventive oral medicine known as PrEP that participants will be offered.
“We’re also testing whether a new oral form of the drug Descovy is equivalent or more effective than the existing standard one known as Truvada.
“If the application is successful this would be the third active HIV vaccination trial in our region,” she said, adding that there were currently no licensed HIV vaccines, but there were two combination regimens already being tested in large-scale trials in Africa: HVTN 702 “Uhambo” and HVTN 705 “Imbokodo”.
If the trials succeed, they would be an effective vaccination strategy, offering life-long protection against HIV infection and reducing the global healthcare burden of treating the disease and its co-morbidities.
“We are looking for HIV-negative participants from general and key populations who report behaviours that put them at increased risk of HIV. The study could include people working around main highways, commercial sex workers, fisher folk and men who have sex with men. They cannot already be participating in other biomedical research studies,” said Gray.
Desmond Tutu HIV Centre director Professor Linda-Gail Bekker said: “It’s not a race, we want to find a drug that works.”