Clinical trials to test the effectiveness of the first ever HIV vaccine, R144 are expected to commence next year in Zimbabwe and other African countries, a senior government official has said.
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) executive director of Collaborative Research Programme, Mike Chirenje, said the trials will commence in April and are expected to bring a positive transition in the country's Health sector which is still battling with the HIV virus.
He was speaking at a journalists' workshop to prepare for the inaugural HIV Research for Prevention (HIVR4P) global conference which is currently under way in Cape Town, South Africa.
"The first vaccine trial will commence around April next year, so we need the media to work with us on reporting about the vaccine and also tell people what the level of efficacy will be," he said.
An Aids vaccine is a substance that teaches the immune system how to create effective anti-HIV immune response.
No vaccines exist to date but scientists are still pursuing candidates that would help control the virus in people who receive vaccines while negative and later get infected.
RV 144 was introduced in 2009 when scientists announced that the vaccine found modest levels of protection among individuals who received it in Thailand.
This was the first evidence in people, or proof of concept that an Aids vaccine can reduce the risk of HIV.
RV144 enrolled over 16 000 Thai men and women who received a series of six immunisations including Alvac HIV (the prime) and AIDSVAXB/E (the boost).
Vaccine recipients had 31% reduced risk of HIV infection compared to placebo (pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) recipients.
Even higher levels of protection were seen in the first year after immunisations.
Speaking at the official opening of HIVR4P conference yesterday, Jarred Beaten of University of Washington, said vaccines could be the way to go and there was every reason for countries to make trials.
"Prep is not one-size-fits-all. Tenofovir containing pills are not feasible for everyone. There is an encouraging pipeline of new PrEP prevention strategies that will deliver options but it would be naïve for us to imagine that any one of these will work or be workable for every person. What is needed are prevention options," he said.
Meanwhile, to build on RV144, an international initiative known as the P5, or Pox-Protein Public Private Partnership, has mapped out a series of follow-up trials and also co-ordinated selection of a new protein boost, meant to improve on the AIDSVAX candidate.
In addition some participants from the RV144 trial received one more additional boost shots to evaluate whether immune responses could be strengthened with further immunisations and the results are expected this year.
P5 is planning efficacy trials in South Africa and Thailand in late 2016 or early 2017.