Moderna Starts Human HIV Vaccine Trials Using mRNA Technology

September 03, 2021
by John Kelly, MD
Moderna Starts Human HIV Vaccine Trials Using mRNA Technology

Moderna has recently begun human trials of HIV vaccines that use the same mRNA technology found in the COVID-19 vaccine. The trial should conclude by the early part of 2023.

The company has two HIV vaccine contenders – mRNA-1644 and mRNA-1644v2-Core. Both passed initial safety testing before it was given to humans. The trial includes 56 random HIV-negative participants, from 18 to 56.

Moderna is using its mRNA platform to target various viruses, including the one that causes HIV. Moderna and Pfizer/BioTech developed COVID-19 vaccines using the mRNA technology, which has been in development for over 10 years. It was nearing its maturity when the pandemic hit.

There have been numerous tries to create an HIV vaccine, but no success has been found. Many vaccine contenders made it to the trial stage, only to fail due to safety and ineffectiveness.

One nearly effective candidate occurring in the 2000s in Thailand. The study found a 30% decline in infections, but many scientists felt the results were controversial.

Another vaccine candidate trial was called off after it was learned it increased a person’s chance of catching HIV and did not prevent infections.

Moderna’s vaccine is the only one of any previous HIV vaccine contender to use the mRNA technology. Since it’s a new platform and has been proven safe and effective for the coronavirus, scientists are hoping it can help with an HIV breakthrough.

The mRNA technology could be advantageous compared with other traditional HIV methods, as it’s a virus that has mutated into various variants.

HIV Medicine Association infectious disease expert Dr. Rajesh Gandhi said the technology provides an easy tool to create vaccines against the variants. All that’s needed is an update to the coding sequences.

Gandhi said the mRNA technology has been quite successful in COVID-19 vaccines. The hope among the scientific community is that it’ll be useful in the development of vaccines to tackle other pathogens such as influenza and HIV.

Several companies are working to develop HIV vaccines – some about to enter clinical trials. Multiple approaches were used to develop other vaccines, including the method used by Thailand researchers and scientists.

Scientists have also come up with injective HIV treatments called rilpivrine and cabotegravir, with outstanding results in various studies. The one-two punch has been given the green light from several countries’ drug regulators. The injection must be given in the buttocks once a month or every couple of months.

Another medication known as lenacapavir is being looked at to determine if it’s suitable for treatment that can be taken less often. It’s not like other anti-HIV drugs because it looks to disrupt the virus’ lifestyle.


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