HIV Vaccine Info-line


Making the vaccine

University of Cape Town (UCT)
Contact: Prof. Anna-Lise Williamson
Tel: +27 21 406 6124


Developing novel candidate vaccines
The UCT group is investigating different strategies to make vaccines, based on the HIV-1 subtype C virus, the dominant strain circulating in southern Africa.  The mission is to develop HIV-1C vaccines that are effective and affordable, and to advance the most promising vaccines or combination vaccines to clinical trial.  The group consists of a multidisciplinary team of over 30 people with Professor Anna-Lise Williamson as Research Director, and Professors Carolyn Williamson, Enid Shephard, Ed Rybicki and Dr William Bourn as Principal Investigators.

The first vaccines selected to move forward to clinical trials are DNA vaccines and a modified vaccinia virus Ankara vaccine (MVA).  This DNA prime-MVA boost combination is one of the most promising vaccine strategies. 

These vaccines are currently being manufactured for clinical trials.

The next most promising vaccine is the virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine based on an HIV-1 subtype C Pr55 gag protein, produced in insect cells via recombinant baculovirus.  Initial studies show good immune responses in animal models primed with DNA gag C vaccine and boosted with gag C VLPs.

A longer-term project is aiming to optimise bacterial vectors as vaccine delivery vehicles.   BCG - better known as the TB vaccine - would have many advantages, as production capacity is available locally and production costs are also low in comparison to other vaccines.  Although rBCG expressing HIV-1 proteins induces an immune response in animal models, it is not yet optimal for use as a vaccine.  Several approaches are being taken to improve this response.  The common gut bacterium Salmonella is also being investigated as a vaccine vector.

Monitoring HIV-1 diversity in preparation for vaccine trials
HIV diversity remains one of the greatest challenges for developing an effective vaccine: viruses belonging to the same subtype can vary up to 15% in regions of the genome, compared with 35% variation between subtypes. It is not yet understood how viral diversity will impact on vaccine efficacy. The purpose of the HIV diversity study is to provide a comprehensive analysis of subtype distribution and genetic diversity in vaccine trial sites in South Africa. The study aims to define regions under selection in natural infection and will contribute data to future investigations on the impact of vaccine immune pressure on sequence diversity in vaccine trial ‘breakthrough’ infections. It also aims to investigate the relevance of viral diversity in vaccine design.

View a list of publications and conference papers for the UCT group's HIV/AIDS vaccine-related work.


Making the vaccines
The University of Cape Town (UCT)

Testing the vaccines
HIV Vaccine Research Unit, MRC, Durban
HIV Vaccine Division of the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU)
Aurum Health
Cape Town Clinical Trials Consortium

Immunology assessment
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)

Ethical issues
HIV/AIDS Vaccine Ethics Group (HAVEG), University of KwaZulu-Natal

Community involvement
Masikhulisane SAAVI Community Involvement Group

Behavioural science
Socio-behavioural research group

Actuarial assessments
Actuarial Group

Data and bioinformatics
Data Management (MRC)

SAAVI is financially supported by

SA Medical Research Council
South African Department of Health
Italian Co operation
Istituto Superiore di Sanità
Last updated: 20-Nov-2015