Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute-UVRI Dr Pontiano Kaleebu has allayed fears that the HIV vaccine trials which were halted early this week in South Africa were not a waste of time.
On Monday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health stopped the administration of vaccinations in a trial where they have been studying whether a vaccine code-named HVTN 702 or Uhambo could help prevent HIV infection.
The trial that started in 2016 had been highly hyped by scientists and HIV advocates as one of the ways the world will be able to defeat HIV by 2030, hopes that got quashed on Monday when the review team ousted their results.
According to the institute, the vaccine didn’t show evidence of offering protection. Up to 129 HIV infections occurred among 2,694 trial participants who received multiple doses of the vaccine for up to 18 months. An almost equal number of 123 HIV infections occurred among the group of 2,689 who were placebo recipients.
But, Kaleebu said this wasn’t entirely a blow as scientists are now embarking on studying what exactly the vaccine did to the bodies of the recipients even if it failed to offer protection. He said this information will help them in other researches that are on-going to find alternative vaccines.
“You know this study in South Africa was a prime-boost. Already it had shown good results of up to 30 percent protection in an early study done in Thailand in 2009 when one HIV clade was involved. With this they targeted other clades so it could be effective for the type of HIV circulating elsewhere”, he said in an interview with Uganda Radio Network.
“We will continue trying other avenues and we will get a vaccine in future”. He said HIV vaccine research team that he heads here has already secured the necessary approvals from all institutions including Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST).
However even as Kaleebu shows optimism, in a chat with URN Kay Marshall, an advocate with the US-based AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) said the news was a blow to vaccine research.
“We always have high hopes for efficacy trials. But we know they don’t all give us the positive results we want. The good news is there are other trials planned in Africa”.