A multidisciplinary research team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been awarded more than $5.6 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to test a therapeutic vaccine in people living with HIV. Strengthening and redirecting the immune system’s anti-HIV response are the primary goals of the five-year study.
“The first generation of this vaccine produced an impressive immune response in people living with HIV,” said Nilu Goonetilleke, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Departments of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at UNC. “Here we will test the second generation of this vaccine that we hope will be even better at targeting HIV reservoirs in the body.”
A challenge to achieving an HIV cure is that the virus enters a resting state in the body. Latency-reversing agents have shown promise in awaking these dormant reservoirs. If the vaccine proves successful in boosting and controlling the immune system’s response to HIV, it could eventually be paired with latency-reversing agents to clear the virus.
“The next step would be a combination study investigating a latency-reversing agent and the vaccine,” Goonetilleke said. “Ultimately, we want to improve clearance of these reactivated cells and reduce the viral reservoir.”
The study will recruit patients at UNC who are living with HIV, but who are virally suppressed due to antiretroviral therapy. Goonetilleke will work with colleagues across campus, including the Center for AIDS Research, the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Biostatistics. The University of Oxford will provide the vaccine.