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Trials begin for HIV vaccine

By Javan Flowers

Clinical trials for a new HIV vaccine is underway, biotechnology company Moderna and IAVI announced via a joint statement.

According to a company statement, the first participants in the phase-one trial were given doses at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington DC.

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna's mRNA platform," President and CEO of IAVI Dr. Mark Feinberg said in a statement. “The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine."

Moderna explained that the methodology is known as “germline targeting,” a technique that tries to prompt certain white blood cells to produce “broadly neutralizing antibodies” (bnAb). The joint release explained, “A series of vaccines, which would begin with the prime-boost immunogens tested here, may be able to target specific naive B cells and induce them to mature into bnAb-producing ones. In the lab, bnAbs have been shown to neutralize a broad range of HIV variants, and one bnAb, VRC01, was recently shown to be capable of protecting humans against infection by neutralization-susceptible HIV strains. VRC01 is a member of the class of bnAbs targeted in IAVI G001.

The induction of bnAbs is widely considered to be the goal of HIV vaccination, Moderna stated, and the phase-one trial is the first step in the process.

Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, expressed optimism in the trials, “We are very pleased to be partnering with IAVI and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to apply our mRNA technology in the setting of HIV. At Moderna, we believe that mRNA offers a unique opportunity to address critical unmet public health needs around the world."

The immunogens in the experimental vaccine were developed by IAVI and Scripps Research and will be delivered through Moderna's mRNA technology.

IAVI (International Aids Vaccine Initiative) is a non-profit scientific research organization that specializes in the development of vaccines and antibodies for diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.”

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