Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has announced that it is ending its phase 3 clinical trial of an HIV vaccine, known as Mosaico after the shot failed to perform better than the placebo. This marks a major setback in the decades-long search for a vaccine that could prevent one of the world’s most devastating diseases.
In a statement released Wednesday, Penny Heaton, Janssen’s global vaccine lead, expressed disappointment at the news but vowed that the company would keep working to find an effective HIV vaccine. She said that the data gathered by Mosaico might help in future efforts.
The trial was launched in 2019 and sought to recruit nearly 4,000 people – primarily gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals – at risk of being infected with HIV. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data from 2016, these populations made up more than half of all cases of HIV infection worldwide and accounted for most new diagnoses. Even more concerningly, research from 2010 showed transgender women were almost 49 times more likely than other adults their age to contract HIV. It is a setback for Janssen and those worldwide who have been fighting to end HIV/AIDS.
Mosaico involved four doses of Johnson & Johnson’s adenovirus vector vaccine over a year and soluble protein injections on visits three and four. The study was conducted through a partnership between Johnson & Johnson, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the United States Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC).
Mosaico’s failure follows another trial known as Imbokodo, which also tested an HIV vaccine developed by J&J but ultimately found it was only 25% effective; even then, results were just outside confidence intervals indicating there may not have been any benefit at all.
The news adds yet another setback in vaccine development for J&J, which recently saw its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine become largely obsolete after two shots administered separately proved much more effective against COVID-19 infection rates than its product. Likewise, Moderna Inc. too has surpassed J&J in the development of an RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccine candidate as part of their collaborative effort with Merck & Co., Inc., having submitted the first applications for regulatory approval last month, whereas J&J trails behind with no timelines given on when their own RSV candidate might be ready for authorization or distribution yet.
Overall this marks another disappointing result in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, which has been ongoing since the 1980s when AIDS first surfaced in America without much knowledge about what caused it or how best to prevent it from spreading further. While we still lack an approved vaccine to protect us against this deadly virus today, researchers remain hopeful that one-day science will provide such protection so that no one will ever have to suffer unnecessarily from AIDS again.