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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

March 11, 2024 by Hannah Sachs-Wetstone

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Last week at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, researchers presented exciting results from two different HIV vaccine studies that they hope will lead to an effective vaccine that can provide long-term immunity against the virus and greatly reduce the almost million new HIV infections yearly. One study found that a modification to the simian version of HIV drove monkeys to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, and the other showed promising results in encouraging the immune system’s B cells to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies. Over the past four decades of HIV vaccine research, there have many failed and halted trials, thus, all current research into HIV vaccines in now in preclinical development, animal studies, or very early human trials. Nonetheless, HIV vaccine science has consistently driven innovation and science that benefits other infectious disease efforts and global health in general, such as mRNA vaccine technology. With maintained funding and global collaboration, researchers hope to see human trials for an HIV vaccine candidate resume as soon as the 2030s.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is providing up to $1 million in funding to Amplitude Therapeutics to test a new vaccine approach that could address some of the challenges associated with current mRNA vaccine designs and cut down vaccine development times in future pandemics to as little 100 days. The trans-amplifying mRNA vaccine approach could serve as an advantageous alternative to the currently used self-amplifying method and works by separating the RNA fragment that contains the genetic instructions for the body’s cells to make the antigen that induces the body's immune response and the fragment that teaches the body how to replicate more mRNA. The trans-amplifying approach simplifies production and saves time and resources by extending antigen supply and allowing for key components of the vaccine to be developed ahead of time, underlining its ability to speed vaccine development in future pandemics.

The results from a large clinical study presented last week at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections demonstrated that the monthly dapivirine vaginal ring and daily oral pre-exposure prophylaxis with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate and emtricitabine were safe HIV prevention methods among pregnant people, who are an estimated three times more likely to acquire HIV through sexual intercourse than similarly aged non-pregnant people. The study, which was carried out in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe by the Microbicide Trials Network, found that both methods were safe among cisgender women who started using one of them in their second trimester of pregnancy. These results fill data gaps for these two technologies, offering additional prevention options for this population.

About the author

Hannah Sachs-WetstoneGHTC

Hannah supports advocacy and communications activities and member coordination for GHTC. Her role includes developing and disseminating digital communications, tracking member and policy news, engaging coalition members, and organizing meetings and events.Prior to joining GHTC, more about this author