Phase I trial begins for Moderna's mRNA HIV vaccine

Since AIDS was first identified, over 36 million deaths have been attributed to it worldwide.

 Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte. (photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte.
(photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Phase I Trial for an mRNA HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) vaccine developed by Moderna and the nonprofit scientific research organization IAVI began on Thursday as the first participant was administered a dose of the experimental vaccine, according to Moderna.

The immunogens in the experimental vaccine were developed by IAVI and Scripps Research and will be delivered through Moderna's mRNA technology.

The vaccine design approach is known as germline targeting, a method that sees a person's unmutated white blood cells being prompted to develop into producing broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAb), which have been proven to neutralize a broad range of HIV variants.

The induction of bnAbs is widely considered to be the goal of HIV vaccination, Moderna has stated, and the phase I trial is the first step in the process.

HIV/AIDS was first discovered in 1981 and was first reported on in a gay newspaper, The New York Native, on May 1 of that same year. HIV was transferred from non-human primates (primarily chimpanzees) to humans in west-central Africa in the early-to-mid 20th century in a process known as zoonosis.

Moderna's logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. (credit: REUTERS)Moderna's logo is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. (credit: REUTERS)

The virus is spread primarily by unprotected sex, contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, or from mother to child during pregnancy.

Since AIDS was first identified, over 36 million deaths have been attributed to it worldwide, and as of 2020, about 37 million people were living with the disease - primarily in eastern and southern Africa.

"We are very pleased to be partnering with IAVI and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to apply our mRNA technology in the setting of HIV. At Moderna, we believe that mRNA offers a unique opportunity to address critical unmet public health needs around the world," said Stephen Hoge, M.D., President of Moderna.

"We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna's mRNA platform. The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging, and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine," said Mark Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of IAVI.