Posts Tagged ‘gp120’

HIV Vaccines From Bangkok – 1

14 September, 2011

Given that I am presently at the HIV Vaccine 2011 Conference here in Bangkok, I thought (belatedly) that I might blog on the proceedings, given Dorian McIlroy’s previous excellent example on CROI in recent months.

Reclining Buddha, Bangkok

Yesterday morning a Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Thailand was opening the first proper session of the oral proceedings: I was not there, as I needed breakfast after handling an email overload and didn’t feel like wearing a suit, so I missed an important performance by a Thai orchestra. Close call, that…!

We were there on Monday night, though, when a lineup of dignitaries presented in an opening plenary session.  First up was Pratap Singhasivanon, the Conference chair from Thailand. He introduced for the ignorant the long history and impressive list of Thailand’s achievements in the world of HIV vaccinology and prevention. It was sobering to hear that 40% of injecting drug users and 33% of men who have sex with men (MSM) were HIV+, despite that history.

Josè Esparza, acting head of the HIV Vaccine Enterprise, came next.  He was of the opinion that this is the Golden Age of HIV vaccines – an age of unprecedented successes and great promise, and that an HIV vaccine to end the pandemic is within reach. He told us that UNAIDS says that behaviour modification and testing is bringing down infection rates worldwide, which is another encouraging development. He thought that we Need increased and sustained financial support for the vaccine effort, however, including for a greater number of trials with short timelines so as to better test a wide range of possible vaccines.

Stanley Plotkin of Univ Pennsylvania is a luminary of the vaccine world, having helped as an industry insider to develop rubella and pentavalent rotavirus vaccines, among others: his job was to tell us how the success of other vaccines could inform the development of HIV vaccines. He said he had thought of saying “There are no lessons!” and sitting back down, but on reflection he had better not.

What he did share was that he thought that antibody response is king, but that it must be functional. A second lesson was that Ab at mucosal surfaces can give sterilising immunity. As an example, injected inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) does not prevent shedding virus in gut while the live oral OPV does as it is much better at eliciting mucosal imm – but interestingly, at the pharynx both work.  A lesson from human papillomavirus vaccination was that while low Ab concentration did not prevent binding of the virus to the first receptor, it did prevent binding to the second – so entry of the virus into susceptible cells was prevented. Another lesson from polio was that high challenge dose can overwhelm immunity, and that IPV was a lot less good at protecting against high challenge doses. It was important that one could still get protection from disease in the presence of infection: for example, Rotateq rotavirus vaccine prevents disease very well, but vaccinees often get infected.

Ab- and cell-mediated immunity can also synergise: with smallpox it was found that both B and T cells are necessary for survival from vaccination, but on secondary exposure to infection in vaccinees, only Ab was necessary to prevent infection.

An important lesson for HIV was that several diseases required vaccine boosters in later life to maintain protection: with diphtheria, immunity in vaccinees declined dramatically while in those naturally infected it did not. Pertussis too needed boosters in children, and several more in ones lifetime to maintain functional immunity.

It was also important to revaccinate where pathogens changed significantly through time and with place – eg rotavirus was much more varied in Africa than elsewhere, as is HIV-1, and strains changed with time in one place, as do HIV and influenza viruses.

An important societal lesson was that vaccination of adolescents and high risk groups may not be accepted: Eg HPV vaccine coverage in the USA in adolescents was only 27% for all 3 doses, despite a very intensive campaign promoting the vaccine. HBV vaccination in high risk adults was also only at 50% and incidence only decreased when adolescents were vaccinated.

Herd immunity was also essential for public health success: eg pneumococcal vaccination of children protected old people indirectly as they were no longer exposed to the live pathogen in familial or sociatal settings.

His conclusions for HIV vaccines were that:

  • one needed a protective Ab response;
  • that IgA or IgG at mucosal surfaces may prevent transmission;
  • strong cellular responses will help control viral replication;
  • there is a good chance that we will get herd immunity;
  • the vaccine composition may have to change envelope component with time and or region;
  • regular boosters will probably be necessary;
  • public health may require universal vaccination of adolescents rather than only of high risk groups.

Sanjay Gurunathan of Sanofi Pasteur gave an industry view of how to move forward from the partially successful Thai RV144 vaccine trial, also reported here in Viroblogy. He observed that the traditional vaccine development model has large volume purchase in developed countries as the main driver, with industry doing R and D and clinical trials and the public sector doing purchase and delivery, with a trickle down to developing countries over time. He thought that HIV needs novel technology, and needs parallel development for 1st and developing worlds – with partnerships being of paramount importance together with guaranteed volume and price to some extent.

He noted that we must realise that for HIV vaccines failure will preceed success in an iterative process, that successes may be population-specific, that we may need multicomponent regimens, that we need to address developing country infrastructure – and that no company, NGO or even country can do it alone.

In this vein, he described a new partnership which was extending RV144 – this was P5, or the Poxvirus Protein Public Private Partnership, of the US NIAID, Gates Foundation, the HIV vaccine Trials Network, the US Military, Sanofi Pasteur and Novartis. This had in mind a broad poxvirus based protein boost regimen to further exploit the surprising success of the regimen in RV 144.

An important result from RV144 was that it was most efficacious at 12 months (60% efficacy) but that protection had dropped >30% by two years, indicating that boosting may significantly and positively impact level and durability of protection.

P5 want to increase efficacy to at least 50%, which would give a big impact for regional epidemics. There is historical precedent for this with cholera and meningococcal vaccines, neither of which is very good but which do impact public health. Their strategy will use a common regimen of poxvirus prime and a recombinant HIV gp120 boost, and will test MSM in Thailand and heterosexuals in South Africa. They planned to use MF59 or similar adjuvant to increase immune responses, unlike the earlier trial. Another new development was that they planned parallel development and clinical tracks, with a research arm in S Africa on NYVAC vaccinia plus protein and adjuvant and a DNA-poxvirus-protein combination.

An interesting evening – with promises of a major announcement to come the following day….

HIV vaccines: some glimmer of hope??

19 October, 2009

Cells stimulated by HIV vaccines Copyright Russell Kightley Media

It has taken a while for me to get to this, because I have been waiting for the fallout / comment storm to settle a bit, so that I could get a good clear objective view.

And that is…that the recent Thai trial showed hints of promise, but was largely a failure.  At least it did no harm…!

First things first: Nature News’ Elie Dolgin had this to say on 24th September:

Vaccine protects against HIV virus [!!! sic – I had something to say about this, see Comments]

The largest HIV vaccine trial to date has shown moderate success at preventing infection by the virus.

The experimental vaccine — a combination of two older shots that failed to work on their own — reduced the risk of someone contracting HIV by nearly a third. Scientists, however, are still scratching their heads as to how the double-shot approach blocks the virus….

The US$119 million study involved more than 16,000 HIV-negative men and women from Thailand aged 18–30. The trial was launched in October 2003, conducted by the Thai health ministry and sponsored by the US Army Surgeon General. It tested a two-shot infection-fighting strategy using drugs made by Sanofi-Pasteur of Lyon, France, and VaxGen of Brisbane, Australia. Over the course of 24 weeks, participants received four doses of a ‘primer’ vaccine — a disabled bird virus [canarypox – Ed] containing synthetic versions of three HIV genes [ALVAC, subtype B env, gag and pro – Ed] — and two doses of a ‘booster’, which consisted of a protein called gp120 [AIDSVAX subtypes B/E – Ed], a major component of HIV’s outer coat.  [see here for link describing the components].   Clinicians tested for HIV infection every 6 months for 3 years….

Many HIV vaccine experts had previously criticized the approach as a waste of time because each of the vaccine components had a poor track record. The primer, called ALVAC, conferred little to no immune protection in multiple early-phase clinical trials, and the booster, called AIDSVAX, had flopped twice in high-profile, large-scale trials.

And here’s a thing: a high profile crew of scientists had, in 2004, written an open letter to Science magazine, stating in no uncertain terms that they thought the trial ought to be stopped.  In their words:

“Concerns are expressed by a group of AIDS researchers about the U.S. government’s plans to conduct a phase III trial of a combination HIV-1 vaccine in Thailand despite the cancellation of a trial of a very similar combination vaccine in the U.S.A. last year. One of the vaccine components, recombinant monomeric gp120, has already been shown to be ineffective in phase III trials in Thailand and the United States; the other component, a recombinant canarypox vector, is also poorly immunogenic. The scientific rationale that has been offered for the new trial in Thailand is considered by the authors to be weak.”

And now we have Dan Barouch – not a signatory to the 2004 letter, I note – quoted by Dolgin as saying:

“I don’t think anybody knows why this worked the way it did,” says Dan Barouch, an immunologist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. “It’s the largest step forward that’s ever occurred in the HIV-vaccine field, but there’s a tremendous amount of more work that will need to be done.”

But exactly what is it that people are hailing as a breakthrough here?  Dolgin again:

The two-pronged vaccine did not affect the amount of virus circulating in the blood of those who acquired HIV during the study. But it did show a protective effect — vaccinated individuals were 31% less likely to become infected. New infections occurred in 74 of the 8,198 people who received dummy shots, but only 51 of the 8,197 in the vaccine group [my emphasis – Ed], the researchers, led by Supachai Rerks-Ngarm of the Thai Ministry of Public Health’s Department of Disease Control, found.

Dorian McIlroy, a regular contributor to Viroblogy, had this to say on the 24th September in an email to me:

I just read the news story about the ALVAC/AIDSVAX trial results in Thailand.  From the numbers on this press release:

The significance level is extremely slim. For example, if you go to this site

and type in the numbers you will find that p=0.048 by Fisher’s exact test.

If one more person in the vaccine arm had been infected, or if one less person in the placebo arm had been infected, the difference between the groups would not have been significant. [my emphasis – Ed]

None of the experts (Wayne Koff, Frances Gotch, for example) interviewed in different news stories seems to have noticed just how borderline the “statistical significance” really is, and seem to have accepted the bottom-line 30% reduction figure.

Ah well, I just thought I had to tell someone….


Lecturer in Microbiology and Cell Biology,
University of Nantes

Others have also picked up on this – which shows just how desperately slim the hope is.  However, it does remain – although (pleasingly…B-) the pundits have been thrown into a state of confusion, as some strongly-held views have not been vindicated.  Another Nature News article – from Erika Check Hayden, on October 1st – has this to say:

As the dust settles from last week’s surprising announcement that an HIV vaccine combination may protect some people from the virus, scientists are talking about what else the vaccine trial might tell them.

On 24 September, leaders of a US$119-million study of 16,000 people in Thailand reported that the combination of two shots had reduced the risk of HIV infection by one-third …. Now, the vaccine’s fate will depend on whether scientists can figure out its ‘correlate of protection’ — in other words, what caused it to partially protect some people from HIV. The key does not seem to be anything scientists had predicted, which has led to much head-scratching — and some unease.

“It’s a humbling thing, because for the first time we got a positive signal and it doesn’t jump out at us as being related to any classical parameters you would expect from a successful vaccine,” says Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, which supported the trial. “That tells us maybe we were not measuring the right thing.” [my emphasis – Ed]

Amen, brother Tony…a clearer proof of Clarke’s First Law I have yet to see.

So what ARE the things that fall out from this?  First, I would suspect, is that the value of a heterologous prime-boost combination seems to have been shown, albeit weakly.  Second, the use of a poxvirus vaccine in particular in combination with a protein may be a good thing to chase.  I note here that the South Africa / US joint Phase I human trial currently underway with the SAAVI DNA / SAAVI MVA (=modified vaccinia virus Ankara, a poxvirus) was almost certainly considerably more immunogenic in non-humanprimates than either of the ALVAC / AIDSVAX vaccines, so the gleam of hope may soon get brighter.

Third: take heed of Arthur C Clarke before you go sticking your neck out making predictions about HIV vaccines…B-)