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A new HIV clinical trial is to be launched this month. George Washington University is partnering with  International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Moderna, along with other universities and organizations to create a vaccine for HIV. The trial will be starting its first phase and is anticipated to take years to develop a vaccine.

This trial differs from previous trials in how pharmacists make and study the vaccine. Previous vaccines were constructed around an antigen of a protein; this time, the vaccine is built around ribonucleic acid components of the virus using the same approach chemists used to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

“What’s important to mention is all the work that is being done with this is early work. It’s called experimental medicine, so this is not a product development. It’s to learn the process to learn what the possible responses could be,” said Dagna Laufer, vice president and head of clinical development at IAVI.

Developing this vaccine differs from developing other ones because of HIV’s complexity. She says that they are using a targeting approach that will see if the body can teach itself to make broadly neutralizing antibodies. She also says that it doesn’t happen automatically, and it takes time for this to develop.

The hard thing about HIV is that it attacks the immune system which can make it tedious to build immune resistance. Those who have a small viral load, which is rare, have a different experience when battling the virus. They can fight the different mutations of the virus and develop a type of immune response.

“The problem though is that in these elite controllers, they’re infected [and] they’ve developed this immune response only after they have been infected with the virus,” said Daniel Diemert, Professor of Medicine and Microbiology, Immunology & Tropical Medicine at George Washington University.

The goal of this vaccination in the program, Diemert says, is to produce a form of resistance for those not infected with HIV.

Trial sites for this vaccine are in Washington D.C., Georgia, and Texas. The trial will have fifty-six healthy individuals that are HIV negative. The hope is that this clinical trial will be more efficient and create a more timely vaccine development timeline.

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