Building on momentum from the highly successful COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials, the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) is launching a new HIV awareness campaign and unveiling a first-of-its-kind national registry that will provide updated HIV information and make it easier to learn about and participate in HIV clinical trials at HelpEndHIV.org.
The “Help End HIV” campaign is designed to increase awareness – especially among younger people – that HIV remains a major health issue globally and within the United States. Recent audience research conducted by HVTN found that many Americans are not aware that HIV is still a health issue in the U.S., are unsure if they might be vulnerable to exposure, and do not know if there is a cure.
The educational campaign is paired with the launch of the Red Ribbon Registry, a unique, consumer-friendly volunteer database designed to match people who are interested in supporting HIV vaccine research with HIV clinical trials in their communities.
The new Red Ribbon Registry builds on successful community engagement work from the COVID-19 vaccine trials conducted by the COVID-19 Prevention Network. CoVPN is a clinical trial network activated for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the infrastructure of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-funded HVTN. Community advocates, physicians, scientists, epidemiologists and others are taking the lessons learned from COVID-19 vaccine research and applying successful strategies and tactics to re-energize HIV vaccine research.
“HIV vaccine research has now come full circle,” said Dr. Larry Corey, who leads both HVTN and CoVPN, and is a virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where both networks are headquartered. “The registry was born from what we learned during the COVID-19 vaccine trials, which were, themselves, based on knowledge gleaned from previous HIV vaccine clinical trials.”
Both HVTN and CoVPN are funded by NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The overarching goal of the campaign and registry is to raise awareness of the urgent need for HIV clinical trial volunteers and encourage more people – especially young people – to participate. Because COVID-19 was so widespread and so devastating, clinical trials testing experimental COVID-19 vaccines and treatments drew unprecedented numbers of volunteers in a very short period of time. In contrast, volunteer enrollment in early stages of clinical trials for HIV and other diseases has typically lagged. The “Help End HIV” campaign and the Red Ribbon Registry aim to change that.
“HIV continues its silent spread throughout both the United States and the world, and the need for an effective vaccine continues,” said Corey, who has served as principal investigator at HVTN since its inception. “Our goal is to connect with a younger generation that is largely unaware of HIV as a worldwide health crisis and the urgent need for effective vaccines.”
As the world’s largest publicly funded preventive HIV vaccine trials network, HVTN is uniquely positioned to tackle this. Since 2000, when HVTN initiated its first trial, the network has conducted over 85 clinical trials, of which approximately 80% were phase I studies. Thirteen of those trials are still active, six are enrolling participants, and over 15 studies are in the pipeline for the next year.
“HIV and SARS-CoV-2 are very different viruses, with HIV developing a tremendous number of variants, which makes it a constantly moving target. One thing we learned from the COVID-19 trials is that investments in rapid iteration of trials reap early benefits – and this is even more important as we refocus attention on an HIV vaccine,” said Dr. Stephaun Wallace, director of external relations, CoVPN/HVTN at Fred Hutch. “To be able to quickly determine which study products to move forward, we must design and implement trials quickly, and that includes recruiting and enrolling participants more efficiently. We see the Red Ribbon Registry campaign playing a critical role in this approach.”
Outreach efforts for the campaign and registry are targeting geographic areas containing a large pool of potential volunteers where HIV vaccine trials are occurring. Presently, about 41 sites across the U.S. are conducting clinical trials for HIV treatment and prevention and are actively recruiting volunteers. Volunteers will sign up via the registry so they can be matched to an appropriate trial. Potential study participants are generally healthy people ages 18 to 55 who are HIV-negative and want to help find a safe and effective vaccine to end the HIV pandemic.
Similar to the COVID-19 vaccine trials, which relied heavily on community engagement to promote participation, HVTN plans to enlist the support of faith-based and other community leaders to help spread the word about the urgent need for study volunteers – especially in communities where mistrust exists because of historical biomedical research abuses and current racial disparities in healthcare.
“We’ve seen from the COVID-19 vaccine trials that faith-based and community leaders, advocates and healthcare professionals can play an instrumental role in overcoming distrust, especially in communities of color,” Wallace said. “Effective community engagement and diversity in trial participation are critical for ensuring that a vaccine that proves efficacious in a trial actually is effective for a diverse, real-world population, as well as the eventual acceptance of vaccines or therapeutics after they become licensed. We must partner again with community leaders and advocates to ensure greater diversity in HIV clinical trials, especially among key communities that typically are underrepresented, including women, transgender people, and Black, Indigenous and People of Color.”
In conjunction with the educational campaign, HVTN has developed a redesigned and comprehensive website that interested people can visit to learn more about HIV, and access the Red Ribbon Registry via the website.
For more information, go to HelpEndHIV.org.
About the HIV Vaccine Trial Network (HVTN)
The HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) is the world’s largest publicly funded international collaboration facilitating the evaluation of vaccines to prevent HIV/AIDS. The HVTN helps advance the fields of vaccinology, social and behavioral sciences, statistics, and immunology, as well as tuberculosis and COVID-19 vaccines. The HVTN’s mission is to fully characterize the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of HIV vaccine candidates with the goal of developing a safe, effective vaccine as rapidly as possible for prevention of HIV globally. Funding is provided by public and private sources. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is the primary funder and sponsor of the majority of trials conducted by the HVTN. The Network’s clinical research sites are located at leading research institutions in over in 16 countries on four continents. Internationally renowned researchers in HIV vaccines and prevention lead these units and contribute to the Network’s scientific agenda. The Network’s headquarters are at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington.
About the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN)
The COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) was formed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health to respond to the global pandemic. Through the CoVPN, NIAID is leveraging the infectious disease expertise of its existing research networks and global partners to address the pressing need for vaccines and antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. CoVPN works to develop and conduct studies to ensure rapid and thorough evaluation of vaccines and antibodies for the prevention of COVID-19. The CoVPN is headquartered at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.