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where is the research for an HIV vaccine?

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                To date, no vaccine has been found against HIV.  All over the world, and particularly in France where an innovative trial is underway, researchers are continuing their work.  On the occasion of the 28th edition of Sidaction, which begins on Friday, the director of the research center of the association for the fight against HIV + AIDS, Serawit Bruck-Landais, takes stock of the current state of research.

                                    <p>Passed into the background for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the fight against HIV once again captures all the light, Friday March 26, on the occasion of Sidaction.

While the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) has caused the death of more than 32 million people around the world since the 1980s, scientists are continuing their research and increasing initiatives to develop a vaccine to overcome this scourge.

This research has been slowed down by the health crisis linked to the coronavirus, even if several trials have recently been relaunched, explains Serawit Bruck-Landais, director of the health research and quality center of Sidaction, contacted by France 24.

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Several tests and “a rather innovative strategy”

The question of a vaccine strategy has mobilized research since the start of the HIV epidemic, recalls Serawit Bruck-Landais, citing “many failures, and vaccine projects or vaccination strategies which have since evolved thanks to our finer knowledge on the virus and the immune system “. These developments now make it possible to test complete strategies capable of circumventing the problems of an unstable virus, which mutates and from which many subtypes arise.

So where are we today? “There is a phase test 3, very advanced, for which results are expected in 2022 “, answers the director of the research center of Sidaction. The test in question tests a strategy” in mosaic “, allowing to use different ends of the virus, corresponding to sub -different types, with the aim of being able to prevent most viruses circulating in the world.

Other trials are currently located further upstream, in phase 1. This is the case for the trial for a preventive vaccine, launched in France by the Vaccine Research Institute (VRI), a laboratory created by the Agency. French national research institute on AIDS and viral hepatitis (ANRS) and the University of Paris-Est Créteil. This trial “tests a rather innovative strategy for optimizing dendritic cells: central immune cells which orchestrate our immune response”, explains Serawit Bruck-Landais. The idea, she continues, is to “target these cells so that they can recognize HIV viruses, then present them with antigens to stimulate the production of antibodies.”

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A call for volunteers was launched on February 25 by the French laboratory which has planned three stages of recruitment. Currently in phase 1, the trial aims to “test the harmlessness of the vaccine”, continues the director of scientific programs at Sidaction. The interest at this stage is therefore to know whether the vaccine induces an immune response and whether the planned doses induce side effects. The first volunteers will receive their injection in mid-April.

<div class="m-em-image">

Figures from the HIV epidemic. © FMM Graphic Studio
    </div><strong>Collaboration between HIV researchers and Sars-CoV2 researchers</strong>

If research continues and is equipped with encouraging innovative means, it has had to face certain difficulties linked to the health crisis. “The tests were interrupted or slowed down “, explains Serawit Bruck-Landais, in particular because it was no longer possible to follow their thousands of participants due to “travel problems and barrier gestures. ”The expected results have therefore been postponed.

However, she notes a positive counterpart to the health crisis: she encouraged researchers on HIV and others on Covid-19 to collaborate. This collaboration has in particular allowed to open up avenues of study on messenger RNA technology. Used for two vaccines against Covid-19 (Pfizer and Moderna), “this one has, for the time being, never tested for HIV, but researchers have been looking at it for several months to apply it to HIV, ”explains Serawit Bruck-Landais.

The two viruses are nevertheless very different, she recalls, thus justifying that the strategies tested for HIV have not yet succeeded, while several vaccines against Covid-19 have been found in record time. “One is the coronavirus – the Sars-CoV-2 – the other is a retrovirus – HIV, “she explains.” HIV mutates a lot. With each viral cycle, each time it multiplies, it generates at least twenty mutations, and on top of that, there are at least four subtypes that circulate in the world and are different from each other. ” .

Logically, continues the director of the Sidaction research center, “the vaccine strategy is less complicated when it comes to having a single virus recognized by the immune system, than thousands of variants and at least four subtypes”.

In the meantime, she adds, the state of HIV research has benefited that of Sars-CoV-2. “Vaccine strategies tested for HIV that have not worked are used for Covid-19 vaccine, including adenovirus vaccine [utilisé par AstraZeneca et Johnson&Johnson, NDLR]”Citing these strategies first developed within the framework of research on HIV, Serawit Bruck-Landais, affirms it. : “There are interactions and lessons to be learned on both sides”.

In France, 173,000 people are living with HIV, a virus that affects the immune system and prevents the body from defending itself against disease.

It is also estimated at 24 000 the number of people who carry the virus without knowing it. The drop in screening observed during the Covid-19 pandemic (around 650 000 tests not carried out in 2020, according to estimates from Public Health France), raises fears of an epidemic rebound by 2022.


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