HIV vaccines: Lessons from basic research, clinical trials, and public policy

Andrew C. Saiz* and Kelsey L. Farenhem

Edited by Hannah LeBlanc and Steven Cheng

Review | Aug. 31 2023


DOI: 10.38105/spr.0cg04tczoe


  • Decades of HIV research have paved the way for new HIV vaccines, although there remain technical challenges to produce an effective vaccine.
  • Public-private partnerships have been integral in modern vaccine development, particularly for HIV.
  • Several factors will impact future vaccine rollout, including healthcare data systems, vaccine sharing plans, and disparities in care accessibility.

Article Summary

Forty years since its discovery in 1983, HIV/AIDS still lacks a cure, despite advances in biomedicine that have dramatically improved global understanding of the virus’s biology. Decades of research and improvements to clinical trial infrastructure have promoted the development of novel vaccines for HIV, but these vaccines have shown limited efficacy. The landmark clinical trial “RV144” in Thailand (2003) showed modest efficacy of an HIV vaccine for the first time ever, sparking the formation of public-private partnerships and a wave of other HIV vaccine clinical trials. Around two decades later, the COVID-19 pandemic provided an impetus to move vaccine technology forward and exposed areas for improvement in vaccine and clinical-trial infrastructure. Looking at historical examples from both HIV and COVID-19 research, vaccine trials, and global statistics, it is clear that a successful vaccination campaign will require generous funding, collaboration, clinical trial infrastructure, sharing of data and resources amongst researchers, and policy based on scientific evidence and ethics. Such a successful campaign will also require overcoming several hurdles, such as delivering vaccines to individuals in countries with underdeveloped health care systems and both demographic and geographic disparities in access to care. The perspectives in this article are apropos given the recent development of HIV vaccines that have entered clinical trials.

Open Access


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Andrew C. Saiz

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA

MIT Department of Biology, Cambridge, MA

Kelsey L. Farenhem

Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, MA

MIT Department of Biology, Cambridge, MA