South African Research For HIV Drug Goes Back To The Drawing Board

Vaccinations have been halted in a test of a new HIV vaccine after it proved no more effective than a placebo, researchers announced.

In the “Uhambo” study – also called HVTN 702 – tested in South Africa – it was determined that 129 people who received the vaccine developed HIV while 123 who were given a placebo contracted the infection.

The Uhambo study involved 5,407 volunteers from across South Africa and was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the U.S. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a total of $121 million.

“There’s absolutely no evidence of efficacy,” said Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council who launched the study, in remarks to Science magazine. “Years of work went into this. It’s a huge disappointment.”

“It’s disappointing, but I’m not overly surprised by it,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of NIAID. “It did not, essentially, bring us over the goal line.”

An earlier trial of a similar HIV vaccine was sponsored by the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and reportedly had proven 31 percent effective in 16,000 people in Thailand four years earlier.

Before this vaccine trial was initiated, however, an opinion letter from 22 established HIV researchers was published in the journal Science calling into question the rationale for this study of combining two vaccines that each failed in prior human trials to generate immune responses that they were designed to elicit.

The letter stated that spending $119 million when “the overall approval process lacked input from independent immunologists and virologists who could have judged whether the trial was scientifically meritorious” was an ill-advised use of precious resources.

In a statement, GSK said the company was “disappointed by the results” and “the fact that the development of this vaccine, which was predominantly aimed at benefiting people in the developing world, is unlikely to be continued now.”

Meanwhile, global health authorities are increasingly worried about the coronavirus threat to Africa where an estimated one million Chinese now live. Some health workers on the ground warn they are not ready to handle an outbreak.

Those growing worried include employees at the Sino-Zambia Friendship Hospital in the mining city of Kitwe in northern Zambia, near the Congo border. “We’re definitely not prepared. If we had a couple of cases, it would spread very quickly,” physiotherapist Fundi Sinkala said. “We’re doing the best we can with what resources we have.”

SOURCE: Global Information Network

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