By BRIGHTON TARUBEREKERA
Uhambo trial also known as the HVTN 702 vaccine study that was ongoing since 2016 in South Africa was stopped by an independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) last month after a scheduled review by the Board showed that the HVTN 702 vaccine was neither reducing nor preventing infection.
The Data Safety Monitoring Board is a an independent body that reviews data at regular intervals and can stop a study if there are signals from the data that either the product is not working or that the product might be unsafe.
Uhambo is a Xhosa word that means journey. The Uhambo study was launched as part of the global journey of finding a preventative vaccine against HIV. The study consisted of 5 407 HIV negative men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 across 14 sites in South Africa who volunteered to be part of the study.
The study participants were randomly divided into two groups the active group and a placebo group. The former group was injected with the HVTN 702 vaccine whilst the members of the placebo group were injected with a vaccine that did not have any drug.
An analysis that was conducted on 23 January 2020 by the Data Safety Monitoring Board in which they examined 2 694 participants who had received the active vaccine as well as 269 who had received the placebo injection found that the number of infection across the two groups were statistically the same.
Speaking at a Science Café at the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre in Harare, one of the researchers in the study, Dr Hunidzarira from the UZUCSF Collaborative Research Program as well as a medical officer with the
Microbicide Trials Network stated that the reason why the study had been stopped was not because of any issues relating to the safety of the participants but it was due to the fact that the vaccine showed that it was not preventing HIV infection.
She further stated that the early abandonment of the Uhambo Clinical study does not reflect failure of the process because it managed to answer the question of whether the HVTN 702 vaccine could prevent HIV infection.
‘We went in with a question “Can this prevent HIV infection?” and the answer was no, it does not’
Funded by the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Uhambo clinical study was scheduled to run until 2022 and it was one of the largest HIV vaccine trials in the world. Despite the abandonment of the Uhambo Study, there is still hope that a safe and effective HIV vaccine is possible.
Currently, several other global efforts are still underway in pursuit of a safe and globally effective preventative HIV vaccine. Some of these include initiatives include the Antibody Mediated Prevention (AMP) Study, Mosaico study in the United States and the Imbokodo Study.
The AMP Study is an idea of giving people antibodies to see if they will protect against HIV infection. The Imbokodo Study is being carried out here in Zimbabwe and the results are expected to be released in 2022.