Cuba is advancing in the development of a therapeutic HIV/AIDS vaccine that has concluded the preclinical studies phase in lab animals and testing in about 20 human volunteers, with results of safety, tolerance and without adverse effects, according to the project leaders.
The product named “Teravac-HIV” is essentially aimed at inducing an anti-HIV cellular response to reduce the burden of the virus on patients by promoting a “functional cure,” said principal project specialist Enrique Iglesias.
“Cuba has a low incidence of HIV/AIDS epidemic, but there is a high resistance to some of the antiviral compounds we use. In that context, a therapeutic vaccine could contribute to the management of the epidemic,” Iglesias told the state newspaper Juventud Rebelde in an article published this Sunday.
There are 26,952 persons on the island infected with the HIV/AIDS virus, 80 percent are male and 82 are between 20 and 54 years old, according to the latest official data on the epidemic released last week.
Of these, 86 percent receive free and controlled antiretroviral therapy, based on a combination of Cuban and other imported antiretroviral drugs, certified by the World Health Organization.
Among those diagnosed, the most affected are transsexual women, with 19.7%, men who have sex with other men (MSM)―5.6%―and people who practice prostitution, which are 2.8%.
A genetically engineered vaccine
The Cuban Doctor in Biological Sciences said that the vaccine candidate that the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) has been developing for several years contains three genetically engineered proteins.
One of these proteins generates the specific immune response against the virus, and two other hepatitis B virus (HBV) proteins were included―one is the active ingredient of the prophylactic vaccine―and both can generate immunity against HBV.
The specialist said that at the end of the research phase―of preclinical and toxicological tests in lab animals―a study was designed that included more than 20 HIV-positive patients in good health distributed in two groups.
“One group received intranasal and subcutaneous inoculations with Teravac and the other with a placebo. The results of the vaccine candidate showed its safety and tolerance without significant adverse events being reported,” said the specialist.
He also indicated that future studies should be aimed at “optimizing the dose and immunization plan,” among other variables, before there can be “certainty of the effectiveness” of the vaccine.
Although it is recognized as “partially effective,” some of the benefits of the future therapeutic vaccine are that it could reduce the financial cost of the therapies, allow their temporary recesses to counteract their side effects and could also reduce transmission by sexual contact.
In addition, it is credited with the possibility of reducing viral diversity in patients, as well as the appearance of resistance mutations, which would enhance the effectiveness of therapies.
Coinciding with the world day against AIDS this December 1, the island’s public health authorities affirm that Cuba is the country in Latin America with the lowest prevalence of the virus, and highlighted that they maintain control in transmission in children under 14, heterosexual men and women, among other results.