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December 1 is annual World AIDS Day; an opportunity to look at how medical research into fighting the disease is progressing. Today, 35 million people live with HIV, 25 million of whom are in Africa. It infects over two million people every year.
Antiviral therapies have slowed down the progression of the disease, but these drugs are both expensive and toxic in the long run.
Scientists have been searching for a vaccine for many years, and this research is at the heart of the Euroneut 41 program, involving 17 European partners. Its goal: to block HIV from entering the body by using an innovative vaccine based on GP41, a protein present in the virus. In France, the company Px Therapeutics has synthesized an enhanced version of this protein to obtain the best possible immune response.
Px Therapeutics’ director, Nicolas Mouz explained why the GP41 protein in particular was chosen:
“The GP41 protein was selected because it’s located on the surface of the virus, so it’s a protein that can be seen by the immune system. It also plays a key role in the virus’ cell-entry mechanism.”
In order to trick our immune system, HIV changes constantly. But GP41 remains unchanged and could therefore prove to be the virus’ Achilles heel. If the human body produces neutralising antibodies against this protein, the vaccine could be effective against a broad variety of virus strains.
More than 40 versions of GP41 were created and screened to optimise the immune response.
An elected candidate was then tested in the UK, in a phase one clinical trial on healthy female volunteers. Immunologist Dr David Lewis supervised the trial.
The sexual transmission of AIDS is prevalent throughout the world. Therefore, Euroneut-41 is testing a new means of administering the vaccine, to block the virus at the gateway.
“If you give a vaccine in the nose it stimulates a good response in the genital tract,” Dr Lewis explained.
“So, the innovative concept is to start to give the vaccine into the nose with three doses. This prepares the body for a good response in the genital tract to block infection with antibodies that keep it out.”
So far, all HIV vaccine candidates have failed to make the human body produce effective protection. A phase two clinical trial will determine whether the Euroneut vaccine is more effective.
Find more information on www.youris.com.