One of the major biotech companies that developed a vaccine for COVID-19 last year, Moderna, is recruiting for clinical trials to create an effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS.

The trials, sponsored by the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, are calling for 56, HIV-negative individuals of all genders, between 18 and 50 years old in good general health. Phase I of the trials begins on Aug. 19 and is projected to conclude in the spring of 2023, according to a release from the National Institutes of Health. 

“COVID-19 showed us what we can do if we want to move a vaccine forward quickly,” virologist Dr. Andrew Pekosz told VeryWell Heath, adding that the data from COVID-19 vaccinations may help biotech companies expedite the process for distributing ofher vaccines to the public.

Traditionally, most vaccines contain a live or inactive virus, but some COVID-19 vaccines use the first-of-its-kind mRNA technology, which has been studied for over 30 years. This platform creates proteins that send a message to cells and triggers an immune response in the body, allowing for it to recognize the virus in the event that it invades the immune system. 

In comparison to other vaccines, mRNA also provides substantial advantages, including potential added protection against not only COVID-19 variants, but HIV mutations as well, by simply editing the vaccine’s coding sequence.

“[mRNA] is a good platform to try against HIV,” Pekosz said. “But because the immunity that you need to protect from HIV is a little bit different from what you need from flu and COVID-19, it's more important to do the large scale trials to really see how effective it could be.” 

An extensive study from the HIV Vaccine Trial Network, titled Social Impacts among Participants in HIV Vaccine Trial Network (HVTN) preventive HIV vaccine trials, analyzed the beneficial social impact of individuals who participated in preventive HIV vaccine trials. The study indicated that participants feel good when helping others, revealing that 43% of participants were motivated by altruistic reasons, followed by 30% who reported healthcare-related benefits like HIV risk reduction counseling and access to medical care/information as their motivation to participate. 

In the past, HIV vaccine research has proven ineffective, and some studies have even been thought to increase the risk of contracting HIV. But, with mRNA technology, researchers can edit the proteins in a vaccine without using an entirely new formula, which is especially beneficial in the case of vaccine-resistant strains of HIV. 

“The mRNA platform makes it easy to develop vaccines against variants because it just requires an update to the coding sequences in the mRNA that code for the variant," infectious diseases physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and chair of the HIV Medicine Association, Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, said.

“Based on its success in protecting against COVID-19, I am hopeful that mRNA technology will revolutionize our ability to develop vaccines against other pathogens, like HIV and influenza,” Gandhi added.