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Want to help cure HIV? Join an HIV vaccine research study

, by Emily Newman

science researchMay 18 is National HIV Vaccine Awareness Day—a day set aside to bring awareness and support to research dedicated to finding a safe and effective vaccine for HIV. In honor of the day, BETA brings you news about two HIV vaccine studies—one for prevention, the other for an HIV cure—in the Bay Area.   

Vaccines, which prime our immune systems to prevent or kill infections or cancer, are currently under investigation as a strategy for HIV prevention and HIV cure. Read about two HIV vaccine studies, below, and find out how you can get involved.

HIV prevention vaccine: The AMP Study

Bridge HIV, of San Francisco Department of Public Health, is currently enrolling people who are HIV-negative in the AMP Study (which stands for Antibody Mediated Prevention).

This study is actually slightly different than a typical vaccine study: Instead of administering an agent that helps the body produce the right antibodies to ward off an infection, the AMP Study is administering the antibodies to people directly.

The antibody being tested is called “VRCO1.” This antibody has generated much excitement in the HIV world—capturing headlines after results from early animal studies were released. (You can read more about VRC01 on BETA here and here.)

The AMP Study is enrolling people who are age 18 to 50, and either male or transgender and having sex with men. Find out more about the AMP Study.

To participate in the study, visit www.PowerToPreventHIV.org or call 415-437-7485.

HIV cure vaccine: PENNVAX

An HIV cure research team in San Francisco, under the direction of Steve Deeks, MD, from the University of California, San Francisco is planning for an early-stage HIV vaccine cure study that will enroll people living with HIV in both San Francisco and in L.A.

The vaccine, named PENNVAX, works by stimulating cells of the immune system (T cells) which can target and kill cells infected with HIV. A similar vaccine approach has already demonstrated success in stimulating a powerful immune response against human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which gives Deeks hope that it may also be effective when used against HIV.

Steven Deeks, MD (Photo: UCSF)

“It has shown great promise and really remarkable activity in human papilloma virus. It has been shown to generate these very powerful T cells that can potentially prevent cervical cancer. I have been inspired more by that story than any other therapeutic vaccine study,” said Deeks.

The HIV vaccine study will enroll a total of 60 people living with HIV, and will randomize people to receive either the vaccine or placebo. To enroll, people will be required to be on effective antiretroviral therapy, for at least a year, with a CD4 count over 400.

“It’s a fairly safe intervention,” said Deeks. “Of all the types of studies we do for HIV therapy, the vaccine studies are among the most benign. You’re using inert material to turn on an immune response—and it’s an immune response that should have been turned on from the get go. There is limited toxicity.”

The study will involve three vaccine doses (shots) over the course of a few months. There are no treatment interruptions planned as part of the study procedures, meaning that participants will not be required to stop their antiretroviral therapy before or during the study.

This particular study is unique—in the setting of HIV vaccine research—because of its focus on stimulating T cells instead of antibodies. In recent years, broadly neutralizing antibodies have dominated the HIV vaccine field with the success of antibodies including VRCO1, 3BNC117 and more.

“A lot of the intellectual investment that was made in vaccine development over the first 20 years or so was all about generating T cells, but a lot of that science is being abandoned in prevention because of the interest in developing antibodies. It turns out, as we’re revving up cure work, the therapeutic world can learn a lot from that investment,” said Deeks.

Participate in an HIV cure research study

For more information on the PENNVAX HIV vaccine study, or other HIV cure clinical trials in San Francisco, contact Rebecca Hoh at 415-476-4082 x 139 or email Rebecca.hoh@ucsf.edu.

To sign up for HIVresource, a free quarterly newsletter of Bay Area HIV, PrEP and hepatitis C clinical trials, email enewman@sfaf.org or sign up here.

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