Four decades since the start of the AIDS epidemic, but still no vaccine – .

Four decades since the start of the AIDS epidemic, but still no vaccine – .

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                Les vaccins contre Covid ont commencé à se montrer prometteurs quelques mois seulement après que le nouveau coronavirus a commencé à se propager à travers le monde.  Alors pourquoi des décennies de recherche sur le VIH/SIDA ont-elles permis d'aboutir à si peu de progrès sur un vaccin destiné à prévenir une maladie qui a coûté la vie à quelque 680 000 personnes en 2020 ?                </p><div>

                <p>Alors que le monde célèbre mercredi la Journée mondiale du sida, pourquoi n'y a-t-il toujours pas de vaccin pour protéger les gens contre le virus de l'immunodéficience humaine (VIH) ?

One answer is that the political will and colossal investments that spurred the development of a Covid vaccine have been largely absent from AIDS vaccine research since the discovery of HIV in 1983.

But another is the complexity of the science behind HIV.

“With the Covid vaccines, researchers fear that the vaccine may fend off a handful of variants that have become particularly worrying,” read a June report from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

“But for HIV, there are millions and millions of different viruses that result from the virus’s stealthy ability to mutate rapidly… It is at this astonishing level of diversity that any HIV vaccine must contend with. “

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, explains that while most people can recover naturally from an initial coronavirus infection and thus acquire immunity, this is not the case for HIV.

“HIV mutates much more easily than Covid and therefore it is more difficult to generate so-called largely neutralizing antibodies that could prevent infection,” he said.

Only a handful of people naturally produce these antibodies when exposed to HIV.

Researching a vaccine has meant studying these rare responses, understanding how they work, and attempting to replicate them in the immune systems of healthy people.

An mRNA jab?

Several dozen vaccines are under study, including one from the American company Moderna seeking to use the same mRNA delivery method as its popular Covid vaccine.

The June report outlining the research explains how the mRNA jab is supposed to provide instructions for a process called “germline targeting.”

It means “guiding the immune system, step by step, to induce antibodies that can counteract HIV,” the report explains.

So far, the technique has been complex, involving an initial injection to activate important B cells before multiple injections attempt to trick the body into producing a range of antibodies.

Being able to visualize a way forward has given researchers hope, and some say it’s thanks in large part to the pandemic.

“The last few years have seen an unprecedented growth in our understanding of the immune system,” Serawit Bruck-Landais of the French AIDS organization Sidaction told AFP.

But even with apparent breakthroughs, Bruck-Landais says, progress on an HIV vaccine is “not enough to say that we will soon have an AIDS vaccine.”

US clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine that were slated to begin in August are still listed on the National Institutes of Health website as “not recruiting.”

“Lack of investment”

Researchers who study vaccines say they are being overlooked in terms of funding.

“The market is too weak for pharmaceutical groups and there is a disappointing lack of investment,” notes Nicolas Manel, research director at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM).

“A lot of researchers are very motivated, but they have to make do with the funds they have.

In the absence of a vaccine, the focus has always been on promoting preventive measures such as safe sex, clean needles, and overall better access to health care for marginalized populations. .

Some 38 million people around the world are living with the virus.

Monsef Benkirane, research director at the French Institute of Human Genetics, highlights the significant improvements in medicine that allow many people living with HIV to live longer and healthier lives.

It is important to note that by reducing the viral load of an infected person, HIV treatments today can significantly reduce or eliminate a person’s chances of passing HIV to another person.

But Benkirane says many people do not have access to treatment, while those who do find it difficult to follow and take all the necessary medications.

“In addition to improving access to treatment, there are still issues with people actually sticking to treatment regimens, even in Europe,” he said.




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