Today, Johnson & Johnson announced that the proof-of-concept efficacy study of Janssen’s investigational HIV preventive vaccine achieved full enrollment. 2,600 young women across five southern African countries are taking part in the study, known as Imbokodo – the Zulu word for “rock”, referring to the strength and importance of women in the community.
As a physician and researcher who started my career in Africa at the beginning of the HIV epidemic, this is an incredibly exciting milestone; it could put us another step closer to a solution that helps turn the tide of HIV.
Finding a safe and effective vaccine has proven to be one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. The search for a vaccine began the moment HIV was first identified more than 35 years ago.
There have been many challenges along the way due to the unique properties of the virus, including its global genetic diversity and ability to mutate rapidly.
Today, by leveraging all that we have learned about the virus in the last three decades, harnessing cutting-edge technologies, and working in partnership with multiple global stakeholders, we are optimistic that we can find a preventive HIV vaccine in our lifetime.
Although it may seem that HIV is no longer the threat that it was a few decades ago, the fact is that 1.8 million people were newly infected with the virus in 2017, and nearly 1 million died of AIDS that year alone.
And even though the scientific community has made significant strides in creating effective treatments for HIV, allowing people with the virus to live a near normal life, more than 35 million people are infected with the virus globally.
This means that more than 35 million people need to receive HIV treatment for the rest of their lives, which puts an incredible burden not only on those individuals and families, but entire healthcare systems. That’s why an effective preventive vaccine must remain a top global priority.
The 2,600 women who have volunteered to participate in Imbokodo, and the many study staff on the ground who are helping make this clinical trial a reality, are the true heroes of this effort.
We are thankful to them and to our consortium of global partners, as well as the hundreds of scientists around the world whose dedication has made it possible for us to reach this milestone. Together, we will continue to harness the latest science and technology to make HIV history.