February 03, 2020

Research Roundup: HIV vaccine candidate fails, R&D for infectious diseases reaches record high, and study documents first case of coronavirus spread by asymptomatic person

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Matthew Dakin

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A broad study of a promising HIV vaccine has ended in failure after an interim analysis showed it was no more effective than placebo in preventing infection. Vaccinations for the Uhambo study in South Africa were halted following the determination on January 23 that 129 people who received the vaccine developed HIV while 123 people who were given placebo also contracted the infection. The trial began in 2016 following testing of a modified version of a vaccine that had proven to be modestly effective in a trial in Thailand four years earlier, thus warranting further study. The Uhambo study was only the seventh large-scale human trial of a vaccine for HIV, a virus that infected 1.7 million people worldwide in 2018, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS. Two other large human trials of another HIV vaccine candidate, designed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of the health care giant Johnson & Johnson, are currently underway.

Funding to develop new technologies for some of the world’s leading infectious disease killers, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, reached a record high of US$4 billion in 2018 with strong increases from the private sector, according to the 2019 G-FINDER report. This marks both the largest real annual funding increase on record and the first time that funding has grown for three consecutive years. However, investments in research and development (R&D) for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)—a subset of debilitating but lesser-known parasitic, viral, and bacterial infections—have plateaued in the past two years and even declined by $34 million over the last decade, according to the report, which was released on the first World NTD Day. The G-FINDER report provides a comprehensive annual look at investments in neglected disease R&D, including how investments are allocated across diseases and product types, funding trends over time, and potential gaps in funding.

People showing no symptoms of the novel coronavirus appear to be able to spread it, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. If this finding is confirmed, it will make it much harder to contain the coronavirus, which has caused an outbreak in China and has led the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency. Some viruses can only be passed when a person is exhibiting symptoms, while others can be spread a day or two before the onset of symptoms—meaning people who are contagious but are asymptomatic can unknowingly spread the virus, complicating containment efforts. According to the report, a woman from Shanghai flew to Germany where she appeared to have passed on the virus to a German colleague a day or two before being symptomatic herself. As of Thursday, the coronavirus was reported to have infected nearly 9,700 people in China, killing 213. Approximately 100 more infections but no deaths have been reported in 18 other countries.