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J&J to discontinue HIV vaccine trial

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Johnson & Johnson said on Wednesday (January 18) that it was pulling the plug on a late-stage global trial of an HIV vaccine after the shot was found ineffective at preventing infections.

The failure of the trial marks yet another setback in the search for a vaccine against a virus known to mutate rapidly and find unique ways to evade the immune system, and comes more than a year after another of J&J’s HIV vaccine failed a study.

“It’s not the outcome we had hoped for, unfortunately,” said a spokesperson for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a J&J partner in the trial.

“The development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine has been a considerable scientific challenge, but we will learn from this study and continue forward.”

The trial involved administering two different types of a shot, which uses a cold-causing virus to deliver the genetic code of HIV, spread over four vaccination visits in a year. J&J used similar technology for its COVID-19 vaccine.

The study, which began in 2019, was conducted at over 50 sites and included about 3,900 gay men and transgender people – groups that are considered vulnerable to the infection.

Another J&J partner, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN), said the shot was being tested only on individuals who did not accept pre-exposure prophylaxis, a treatment to prevent infections.

In 2021, around 650,000 people died from HIV-related causes while 1.5 million people acquired the infection, according to the World Health Organization.

Various HIV vaccine candidates, including from Moderna, HVTN and NIAID are currently under trial.

While no HIV vaccine has successfully cleared trials so far, some drugs are used in high-risk groups and patients.

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