JOHANNESBURG (AFP) — The supervisor of a major HIV vaccine trial in South Africa voiced “huge disappointment” Saturday after testing was halted in the wake of poor results from sister trials in Australia and the United States. US pharmaceutical giant Merck announced on Friday that it had halted the trials of its V520 vaccine after a study found it to be ineffective.
“It is a huge disappointment because this vaccine has shown promise all the way through, but it’s only when you get in on these big trials that you start to see how the vaccine behaves,” South Africa trials supervisor Glenda Gray told AFP. South Africa is home to nearly 5.5 million HIV-positive people. “Although in earlier studies we saw beautiful immune responses, it doesn’t look like this immune response translates into something that could protect people against HIV infection,” Gray added.
The prototype had been tested on 700 HIV-negative people since February in five South African hospitals. “It is devastating for us, to say the least, but we have to keep going … we need something that can prevent infection,” said Gray, who also heads AIDS research at the Chris Hani Hospital in Soweto, southwest Johannesburg. She stressed that the prototype did not have any consequence on the health of those who participated in the study.
“It is sad and… it is a huge disappointment because it is about life and prevention of new infection,” said Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) president Zachie Achmat, the main organisation that helps people living with AIDS in South Africa. “But it shows that there is proper control on human trials and when something is not effective it can be stopped,” said Achmat, adding, “we want to encourage them to maintain hope.”