Personal care and pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson has announced they are preparing to test a new, experimental HIV vaccine in the United States and Europe. This is another definite move towards developing the world’s first immunization against one of humanity’s deadliest diseases, after several decades of trial-and-error; and frustration.
For the test, J&J will provide approximately 3,800 men who have sex with other men a regimen of shots of the experimental vaccine. Anthony Fauci, US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, says the agency will work with the HIV Vaccine Trials network and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit to conduct the test.
This may be the most promising approach to solving the HIV crisis since the disease was first discovered in the 1980s. It is a necessary intervention at a time when the virus that causes AIDS has been recorded to claim upwards of one million lives around the world every single year. More importantly, Johnson & Johnson specifically wants to develop a vaccine that will be effective among populations that are hit the hardest by the many strains of the rapidly evolving virus.
Indeed, Harvard Medical School professor Dan Barouch—who conducted the research that laid the foundation for this new vaccine—explains how this “brings us one step closer to covering the vast diversity of viruses worldwide.”
He expands on this, too, by noting that it is better to have a vaccine that is effective in as many regions as possible, both for medical and global public health reasons.
More than one million people in the United States—and about twice as many in Europe—live with HIV. This virus, of course, attacks the body’s natural immune system, which complicates other illnesses, often making them more complicated or harder to treat. And then, of course, when HIV goes untreated it can turn into AIDS; this is “late stage” HIV, characterized by a badly damaged immune system that can hardly function at all. AIDS patients typically only live about three years after receiving this diagnosis.
Because it is so complicated, the cost for treating HIV patients is extremely high. Yes, it costs a lot of money to continuously treat a person with a failing immune system, but there are also societal burdens. As such, the World Health Organization has set a goal to reduce global HIV-related deaths to less than half a million by next year. This vaccine could be instrumental in ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.