Trump administration cancels development of AIDS vaccine

By Nick Visser, CNN

Plans to expand the use of an AIDS vaccine that the former U.S. vice president developed have been canceled by the Trump administration.

Experts praised the move, saying the plan to expand usage of the type of vaccine called an antigen-boosted recombinant live virus vaccine (rBGV) was well-established and proved useful in laboratory studies in certain populations and hematopoietic stem cell transplants.

The jab is injected through a vein into an individual with HIV-1 infection. Once it’s infused into the recipient it is designed to provoke an immune response that targets and kills HIV-1.

CNN’s Tim Lefferts reported that the Trump administration disbanded a working group on the issue, whose strategy included approving rBGV for a wide variety of people to prevent the virus.

At the time of the shutdown in March, Trump had yet to be inaugurated.

The Trump administration’s policy reversal on rBGV came shortly after a study at Columbia University published evidence that rBGV had a promising potential in preventing infection among transients living in the United States.

The study found that rBGV became less effective in giving immunity once a person returned to the same geographic location for a second time within three years of using the vaccine.

All study participants were male. The three-year follow-up period covered more than 14,000 people who received rBGV or a placebo, while the 26-year period covered more than 33,000 participants.

“This finding highlights the need for strong ad hoc contingency plans. It also provides more support for our hypothesis that an HIV-1 vaccine optimally designed should at first be given outside the context of other scientific studies, as this is the optimal type of individual that will benefit the most,” the authors wrote.

Some academic and industry experts were surprised that the Trump administration’s decision to end the planning for advancing rBGV treatment research happened so abruptly.

“Not in a million years would you expect someone to pull the plug and suddenly have a vaccine that you don’t have a plan to use,” Michael Korden, a researcher at Emory University who was involved in the initial work on rBGV, told CNN.

Korden added that the research on rBGV was so far advanced that it would have needed nearly a decade of clinical trials before any hope of its use could possibly be realized.

The Trump administration’s efforts to support rBGV in a broader sense were the result of years of research by the scientific community, said Nancy Kessler, the director of strategy and policy for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.

“It was inconceivable to the research community that such a bold idea could suddenly come unraveled,” Kessler said.

“The Trump administration has prioritized the opioid epidemic and has made opioid addiction prevention one of its top priorities. Our country needs a vaccine to slow the spread of HIV, and we must never ever dismiss the urgency of this proposal.”

A lawyer for the Trump administration said it was recently alerted to the rBGV vaccine research and that the White House is aware of the specific actions taken by the Obama administration.

“The elimination of these policies were related to the nature of these programs and not the need to obtain and manage data,” Justice Department attorney Michael Cohen told CNN.

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