Three HIV vaccine trials being conducted all across the world have doctors and scientists optimistic about the prospect of a viable cure, potentially as soon as 2021. Of the three HIV vaccines now progressing through trials, one is built specifically to target a subtype of the virus that has devastated portions of southern Africa, while the other two are created to combat a broad range of HIV variants. A third trial, HVTN 702, is also entering its final stages.
Dr. Susan Buchbinder, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Bridge HIV research program and a chair on the Imbokodo and Mosaico trials, told NBC News that the trio of trials marks "one of the most optimistic moments" in the history of HIV/AIDS research.
Buchbinder told NBC: "We have three vaccines now being tested in efficacy trials and it takes quite a bit to actually be promising enough in the earlier stages stages of trials to move you forward into an efficacy study".
Treatment for individuals infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has come a long way in the past couple of decades, but a vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus has always been a seemingly unattainable holy grail for scientists. Imbokodo is attempting to use "mosaic immunogen", essentially deploying a wider variety of treatments for numerous global strains of the disease. They are nearly identical, but with slightly different formulations.
The Imbokodo trial started in 2017 in five southern African nations and results are expected in 2021. While mostly similar to that older trial, Mosaico is being conducted at 57 locations worldwide and has recruited from broader demographics, including gay men and transgender individuals.
The vaccines - HVTN 702, Imbokodo, and Mosaico - are now in the efficacy trial phase around the world which will determine if the drugs produce expected results under ideal circumstances.
But she added that if an effective vaccine was found, it could be a "stepping off point" to simplify the process.
Researchers hope that day happens in the next few years.
Alarmingly, 25 per cent of people don't know that the virus is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), and while 73 per cent learned about STIs at school, just eight per cent learned about HIV.