Since the AIDS epidemic began in the United States in the 1980s, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 35 million people have died from the incurable disease. AIDS claims approximately 1 million lives end each year worldwide.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is the final stage of HIV infection. HIV is a virus which can be transmitted between humans by the exchange of bodily fluids such as semen, saliva, tears, and blood.
In recent years, about the same number of people have become newly infected with HIV as have received HIV diagnoses: 38,700 in the U.S. The annual number of new HIV diagnoses has been stable since 2012.
Now, in July 2019, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has announced the beginning of clinical trials in the U.S. and Europe on humans to test the effectiveness of a new HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson manufactures health care products and provides related services for the consumer, pharmaceutical, and medical devices and diagnostics markets. The company sells pharmaceutical products, cosmetic products for skin and hair care, acetaminophen products, diagnostic equipment, and surgical equipment in the United States and abroad.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is collaborating with the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, and J&J’s Janssen unit to finally find a cure for the disease which afflicts many Americans.
The international study will involve 3,800 men who contracted HIV from having sexual relations with other men and track the results of a series of injections. Study participants will receive six shots in four sessions. The vaccine was altered from a cold virus to manufacture the proteins in the body responsible for raising immunity.
Only humans can contract HIV which attacks the immune system, reducing its ability to ward off diseases effectively and efficiently. Unlike other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of the HIV virus. There are prescription medicines to control HIV but so far, nothing has been developed to wipe out the HIV virus after it has infected a human host.
AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a medical condition that can develop from an HIV viral infection. AIDS is also called stage 3 HIV and is diagnosed after HIV has seriously damaged the patient’s immune system. The complex suite of symptoms varies from person to person as “opportunistic infections” such as tuberculosis and pneumonia find bodily environments where they can flourish.
Not all HIV infections develop into AIDS (stage 3 HIV) and many patients live long natural lifespans. However, the possibility that HIV might progress to AIDS is a source of worry to anyone who receives a diagnosis of HIV.
According to a government website on HIV, the symptoms of this affliction are sometimes unrecognized and overlooked:
“Approximately 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today. About 15 percent of them (1 in 7) are unaware they are infected.”
In 2016, around 38,700 people became newly infected with HIV in the U.S. In 2017, about the same number – 38,739 – were diagnosed as having HIV. The annual number of new HIV diagnoses was stable between 2012 and 2016.
HIV can lead to AIDS. In 2017, 17,803 people in the U.S. and 6 dependent areas received a stage 3 (AIDS) diagnosis.
In 2016, there were 15,807 deaths among people with diagnosed HIV in the United States. Nearly half (47%) of these deaths were in the South; 3,630 (23%) were in the Northeast; 2,604 (16%) were in the West; 1,720 (11%) were in the Midwest, and 379 (2%) were in the U.S. dependent areas.
Unlike other vaccines that target a single variety of the ever-changing HIV virus, the J&J formula is intended to work on multiple strains found around the world.
The WHO has set a goal to cut global deaths caused by HIV infections to under half a million and to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The J&J vaccine, if successful, would help reach that goal.
Two scientists, Dan Barouch and Bette Korber, optimized a set of mosaic proteins to include in the vaccine to boost the body’s immune system against a wide variety of HIV strains. Korber is a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Barouch is a Harvard Medical School professor whose research paved the way to develop the vaccine.
Barouch said that his multi-pronged attack on HIV “brings us one step closer to covering the vast diversity of viruses worldwide” and that:
“For medical and global public health reasons, it’s better to have a vaccine that works in multiple parts of the world.”
J&J acquired the vaccine under a 2010 agreement to purchase Dutch drugmaker Crucell for around $2.4 billion. To satisfy stakeholders, the HIV vaccine must prove successful after a series of failures by the product’s previous owners which includes the formidable Merck & Co.
If J&J’s gamble to produce the world’s first effective vaccine against HIV doesn’t work out, investors may also bet on the outcome of the global Big Pharma corporation’s efforts to engineer a vaccine to kill the deadly Ebola virus.