Researchers Have Rekindled Optimism for a Successful HIV Vaccine After Decades of Disappointments

( — At the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Denver on Monday, March 4, Dr. Julie McElrath, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center reiterated that achieving an effective vaccine is imperative in the ongoing fight to conquer HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) worldwide.

HIV is the virus that, if untreated, can lead to death from the chronic immune system disease known as AIDS. With modern treatment options, deaths caused by AIDS have been reduced by 69% since the peak in 2004, but in 2022, 630,000 people still died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Head of the AIDS division at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), who also spoke at the conference, commented that recent technological advances such as better models for HIV infection, high-tech imaging technology, and MRNA have contributed to more precise and faster research. Three mRNA-based vaccines have moved into early human trials since 2022, and other similar trials are coming down the pipeline.

Yunda Huang, PhD, also from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, is optimistic about success during the next steps in HIV research. She expressed particular excitement over the progress in combination monoclonal cocktails, adding that with any new research, there is always the possibility to “bump on something” that can change everything. Her optimism and dedication are shared by many in the field of HIV and AIDS research. She was emphatic that the invention of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, does not mean that the battle is over.

Researchers have also pointed to global cooperation as a driving force behind the advancement of vaccines. Dr. Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of IAVI, says while the first trial to test the effectiveness of their vaccine may not launch until 2030, he feels the field of HIV research is in a better place at this time than it’s been at any other point. International AIDS Society (IAS) Executive Director Birgit Poniatowski says they remain dedicated to the hope that everyone who needs it will have access to an effective HIV vaccine in the future.

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