As J&J Vaccine Fails Phase II, the Quest for an HIV Vaccine Continues

Johnson & Johnson became the latest company to have a failed vaccine trial against HIV last week. While it was a great disappointment to many, efforts continue in this space, helped by recent Covid-19 vaccine advances.

HIV has been around for decades. While antiretroviral treatments have improved enormously, turning what was once a death sentence into a chronic condition, an effective prophylactic vaccine has proved elusive.

One reason it’s so difficult to develop a vaccine for HIV is that the virus mutates very quickly. 

“HIV has a tremendous amount of variability,” said Kimberly Smith, Head of R&D at the UK company ViiV Healthcare, which develops treatments for HIV infections. When we talk about the coronavirus that’s the cause of Covid-19, we talk about the various variants, which right now are just a handful. But HIV is literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of times more variable than the coronavirus.”

Another challenge facing vaccine makers is that HIV can escape immune detection.

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