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Researchers are making progress in developing vaccine immunogens designed to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) against HIV. These antibodies develop in only a fraction of HIV-infected individuals, but are the sort of antibodies that many vaccine researchers think will be the most likely to ward off infection if they are induced through vaccination. In what some researchers are calling a “major advance,” three recently published research studies detail these advances and provide the first immunogenicity data in animals for two different types of immunogens. The first immunogens are those similar to the trimer outer Envelope protein of native HIV. The other is a so-called “germline-targetting” immunogen that is engineered to induce the earliest precursors of a specific class of  bNAbs.

A lead physician with the World Health Organization (WHO) says the Geneva-based group may change its guidelines for when HIV-infected individuals should start antiretroviral treatment (ART), a move that could potentially affect millions.

Ever since Edward Jenner developed the first successful vaccine against the dreaded smallpox virus, researchers have been riveted by the interplay between the body’s defense mechanisms and pathogens staging an attack.

When an outbreak of Ebola exploded last August in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, US-based physician-researcher Pat Fast received a call out of the blue.

“My fellow Americans, if the 21st century is to be the century of biology, let us make an AIDS vaccine its first great triumph…And let us also pledge to redouble our vigilance to make sure that the knowledge of the 21st century serves our most enduring human values.”

 – President Bill Clinton, Commencement Address, Morgan State University, Baltimore, Md., May 18, 1997

Today is HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, marking the 18th anniversary of that speech and the launch of a major AIDS vaccine development program. No one expected the solution to arise easily. But the quest for a vaccine that can outwit the quick-change artist known as HIV has turned out to be even more challenging than expected. There is, however, good reason to be hopeful.

The many facets of HIV cure research were discussed and debated this week in Boston at the Keystone-sponsored symposium Mechanisms of HIV Persistence: Implications for a Cure. As the name suggests, one of the main topics on the agenda here was how researchers can gain a handle on understanding the dormant pools of HIV-infected cells that are collectively referred to as the reservoir.

IAVI Report caught up with husband and wife team Robert and Janet Siliciano from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, at this week's Keystone Symposium to get their initial impressions of the meeting and their take on the status of HIV cure research.

It may be next to impossible to imagine a world without HIV, but it’s getting closer to one where HIV will be in remission, says French retrovirologist and Nobel Prize winner Francoise Barré-Sinoussi.

Persistence pays, so they say. But in the case of HIV, persistence is the main obstacle to finding a cure, which is why research is currently focused on determining how HIV establishes its hiding spots and how it can be roused and eliminated.

South African health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, hobbling with his foot in a boot, arrived this morning in Cape Town after flying overnight from a lung health congress in Barcelona.

Heading directly to the huge convention center here that this week was hosting the first-ever HIV R4P conference, a gathering of researchers and activists working on all HIV prevention efforts, Motsoaledi wasted no time in making connections. “We have the highest levels of HIV and tuberculosis co-infection in South Africa and indeed in Southern Africa,” he said. “They are two sides of the same coin.”

First Study Results of Passive Antibody Transfer Spur Future Planning

Following positive initial results from Phase I safety trials evaluating direct administration of VRC01, an HIV-specific antibody that is able to neutralize a broad variety of HIV strains, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is preparing for a series of further studies to see if this broadly neutralizing antibody is effective in preventing transmission of HIV from mothers to their infants, as well as among high-risk adults. The researchers are also doing experiments on the antibody to see if they can boost its potency and lengthen the time the antibody lasts in the body, with an eye to reducing the eventual dosage that patients would need if this approach is successful.

Using a laboratory model made from post-surgery cervical and colo-rectal human tissue, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health are seeing positive initial results in HIV prevention by adding powerful antibodies to a topical gel.

With HIV Prevention Possibilities on the Rise, an African Cohort Closes in on a Last Checkup

In 2006, a group of 613 people recently infected with HIV from Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa volunteered for a scientific study group led by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). This extensive study became known as Protocol C and is the largest acute infection cohort in Africa.

Vaccine from Thailand Shows Promise in South Africa

Glenda Gray, executive director of the Wits Health Consortium’s perinatal HIV research unit in South Africa, presented data today at the HIV R4P conference in Cape Town indicating that the prime-boost vaccine candidates initially tested in the RV144 trial in Thailand—the only HIV vaccine trial to date to show any efficacy—induced cross-clade immune responses in a Phase I safety trial conducted in South Africa, with immunogenicity similar to or greater than that of the responses induced in Thai volunteers. The vaccine, designed for testing in Thailand where clade B and recombinant E/A HIV predominates, was found 31% effective in preventing HIV infection among Thai volunteers. Meanwhile, clade C HIV is the predominant strain in South Africa.

Results from an initial study combining a microbicide candidate and experimental vaccine are promising enough to at least keep Imperial College virologist Robin Shattock coming back for more in pursuing what could be a novel move in preventing HIV infection.

With an incidence of HIV in one hard-hit region of South Africa reaching 44 percent among young pregnant mothers, this part of the world is on the front lines of the public health response to HIV. At the HIV R4P conference in Cape Town on Tuesday, however, South African science minister Naledi Pandor wanted to let the world know her country was no longer a passive participant, content to supply trial volunteers while others did the research.

Tackling Stigma in South Africa

Every market needs an index to benchmark itself. In South Africa they’re setting one to measure public attitudes of intolerance and stigma toward people living with HIV and AIDS.

This so-called Stigma Index will be a biennial national survey examining prevailing moods, says Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research council and co-founder of an internationally lauded perinatal HIV research unit in Soweto.

HIV R4P Shadowed by Ebola

As the inaugural HIV R4P conference gets underway in Cape Town, South Africa, the first virus everyone is talking about isn’t HIV. Discussions in the hallways and over coffee start off with another virus: Ebola.

Bringing Prevention Communities Together in Cape Town

HIV R4P organizers carry high hopes for the first conference attempting to knit together all HIV prevention efforts, says conference co-chair, Sharon Hillier, a University of Pittsburgh professor of obstetrics, gynecology, molecular genetics, and biochemistry.

“Breakthrough” isn’t a term scientists use often when they talk about a finding. But according to co-organizer Rino Rappuoli of Novartis, attendees of the Keystone meeting on Advancing Vaccines in the Genomics Era, which took place from Oct. 31st until Nov. 4 in Rio de Janeiro, heard talks on not just one, but two breakthroughs, both published in Science on the first day of the meeting.