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1.  Phase 1B Study of the Pharmacokinetics and Safety of Posaconazole Intravenous Solution in Patients at Risk for Invasive Fungal Disease 
This was a phase 1B, dose-ranging, multicenter, pharmacokinetics, and safety study of cyclodextrin-based posaconazole intravenous (i.v.) solution administered through a central line to subjects at high risk for invasive fungal disease (part 1 of a 2-part study [phase 1B/3]). Initially, the safety and tolerability of single-dose posaconazole i.v. 200 mg (n = 10) were compared with those of a placebo (n = 11). Subsequently, 2 doses were evaluated, posaconazole i.v. 200 mg once daily (q.d.) (n = 21) and 300 mg q.d. (n = 24). The subjects received twice-daily (b.i.d.) posaconazole i.v. on day 1, followed by 13 days of posaconazole i.v. q.d., then 14 days of posaconazole oral suspension 400 mg b.i.d. The steady-state (day 14) exposure target (average concentration [areas under concentration-time curve {AUCs}/24 h, average concentrations at steady state {Cavgs}], of ≥500 to ≤2,500 ng/ml in ≥90% of the subjects) was achieved by 94% of the subjects for 200 mg posaconazole q.d. and by 95% of subjects for 300 mg posaconazole q.d. The desired exposure target (mean steady-state Cavg, ∼1,200 ng/ml) was 1,180 ng/ml in the 200-mg dosing cohort and was exceeded in the 300-mg dosing cohort (1,430 ng/ml). Posaconazole i.v. was well tolerated. Posaconazole i.v. 300 mg q.d. was selected for the phase 3 study segment. (This study has been registered at under registration no. NCT01075984.)
PMCID: PMC4068540  PMID: 24733463
2.  Safety Profile of the Merck Human Immunodeficiency Virus-1 Clade B gag DNA Plasmid Vaccine With and Without Adjuvants 
Open Forum Infectious Diseases  2014;1(1):ofu016.
The immunogenicity results from 3 phase I trials of the Merck DNA human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine have previously been reported. Because preventive DNA vaccine strategies continue to be leveraged for diverse infections, the safety and tolerability results from these studies can inform the field moving forward, particularly regarding adverse reactions and adjuvants. No serious vaccine-related adverse events were reported during the 3-dose priming phase. Pain at the injection site was more common with adjuvanted formulations than with the phosphate-buffered saline diluent alone. Febrile reactions were usually low grade. Although the AlPO4 or CRL1005 adjuvants used in these studies did not significantly enhance the immunogenicity of the DNA vaccine, adverse events were numerically more common with adjuvanted formulations than without adjuvants.
PMCID: PMC4324197  PMID: 25734089
adjuvants; DNA plasmid vaccine; HIV; safety
4.  Adaptation of a previously validated vaccination report card for use in adult vaccine clinical trials to align with the 2007 FDA Toxicity Grading Scale Guidance 
Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics  2012;8(9):1208-1212.
The Adult/Adolescent Vaccination Report Card (VRC) was developed and validated by Merck in 1998 for use in vaccine clinical trials to collect information from trial subjects on complaints for both local and systemic events after vaccination. This short report describes the revision to the original validated VRC in order to align with the guidelines outlined in the 2007 FDA Toxicity Grading Scale for Healthy Adult and Adolescent Volunteers Enrolled in Preventive Vaccine Clinical Trials. Since the VRC elicits trial subjects' self-reports of any adverse experiences (AE) occurring post vaccination, it was important that subsequent modifications of the VRC retained the original user-friendly characteristics while gathering the appropriate information to align with the FDA Guidance. A convenience sample of 15 participants (71% females, 87% white and mean (SD) age 45 (13) years was recruited to obtain feedback in order to revise the Adult/Adolescent VRC. Based on the feedback received, the following were slightly revised: ruler for the measurements of local systemic reactions, severity ratings, and general instructions. The revised VRC is currently being used in Merck vaccine clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3579899  PMID: 22906942
vaccine report card; patient reported outcomes; vaccine safety; vaccination complaints; adverse event collection; injection site reaction
5.  Sexual risk behaviors, circumcision status and pre-existing immunity to adenovirus type 5 among men who have sex with men participating in a randomized HIV-1 vaccine efficacy trial: Step Study 
The Step Study found that men who had sex with men (MSM) who received an adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) vector-based vaccine and were uncircumcised or had prior Ad5 immunity had a higher HIV incidence than MSM who received placebo. We investigated whether differences in HIV exposure, measured by reported sexual risk behaviors, may explain the increased risk.
Among 1,764 MSM in the trial, 724 were uncircumcised, 994 had prior Ad5 immunity and 560 were both uncircumcised and had prior Ad5 immunity. Analyses compared sexual risk behaviors and perceived treatment assignment among vaccine and placebo recipients, determined risk factors for HIV acquisition and examined the role of insertive anal intercourse in HIV risk among uncircumcised men.
Few sexual risk behaviors were significantly higher in vaccine vs. placebo recipients at baseline or during follow-up. Among uncircumcised men, vaccine recipients at baseline were more likely to report unprotected insertive anal intercourse with HIV negative partners (25.0% vs. 18.1%; p=0.03). Among uncircumcised men who had prior Ad5 immunity, vaccine recipients were more likely to report unprotected insertive anal intercourse with partners of unknown HIV status (46.0% vs. 37.5%; p=0.05). Vaccine recipients remained at higher risk of HIV infection compared to placebo recipients (HR =2.8; 95% CI:1.7, 6.8) controlling for potential confounders.
These analyses do not support a behavioral explanation for the increased HIV infection rates observed among uncircumcised men in the Step Study. Identifying biologic mechanisms to explain the increased risk is a priority.
This study is registered with, number NCT00095576.
PMCID: PMC3392543  PMID: 22421748
HIV vaccines; gay men; sexual behaviors
6.  Extended Follow-up Confirms Early Vaccine-Enhanced Risk of HIV Acquisition and Demonstrates Waning Effect Over Time Among Participants in a Randomized Trial of Recombinant Adenovirus HIV Vaccine (Step Study) 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2012;206(2):258-266.
Background. The Step Study tested whether an adenovirus serotype 5 (Ad5)–vectored human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine could prevent HIV acquisition and/or reduce viral load set-point after infection. At the first interim analysis, nonefficacy criteria were met. Vaccinations were halted; participants were unblinded. In post hoc analyses, more HIV infections occurred in vaccinees vs placebo recipients in men who had Ad5-neutralizing antibodies and/or were uncircumcised. Follow-up was extended to assess relative risk of HIV acquisition in vaccinees vs placebo recipients over time.
Methods. We used Cox proportional hazard models for analyses of vaccine effect on HIV acquisition and vaccine effect modifiers, and nonparametric and semiparametric methods for analysis of constancy of relative risk over time.
Results. One hundred seventy-two of 1836 men were infected. The adjusted vaccinees vs placebo recipients hazard ratio (HR) for all follow-up time was 1.40 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03–1.92; P = .03). Vaccine effect differed by baseline Ad5 or circumcision status during first 18 months, but neither was significant for all follow-up time. The HR among uncircumcised and/or Ad5-seropositive men waned with time since vaccination. No significant vaccine-associated risk was seen among circumcised, Ad5-negative men (HR, 0.97; P = 1.0) over all follow-up time.
Conclusions. The vaccine-associated risk seen in interim analysis was confirmed but waned with time from vaccination.
Clinical Trials Registration. NCT00095576.
PMCID: PMC3490694  PMID: 22561365
7.  HIV-1 Vaccine-Induced T-Cell Reponses Cluster in Epitope Hotspots that Differ from Those Induced in Natural Infection with HIV-1 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(6):e1003404.
Several recent large clinical trials evaluated HIV vaccine candidates that were based on recombinant adenovirus serotype 5 (rAd-5) vectors expressing HIV-derived antigens. These vaccines primarily elicited T-cell responses, which are known to be critical for controlling HIV infection. In the current study, we present a meta-analysis of epitope mapping data from 177 participants in three clinical trials that tested two different HIV vaccines: MRKAd-5 HIV and VRC-HIVAD014-00VP. We characterized the population-level epitope responses in these trials by generating population-based epitope maps, and also designed such maps using a large cohort of 372 naturally infected individuals. We used these maps to address several questions: (1) Are vaccine-induced responses randomly distributed across vaccine inserts, or do they cluster into immunodominant epitope hotspots? (2) Are the immunodominance patterns observed for these two vaccines in three vaccine trials different from one another? (3) Do vaccine-induced hotspots overlap with epitope hotspots induced by chronic natural infection with HIV-1? (4) Do immunodominant hotspots target evolutionarily conserved regions of the HIV genome? (5) Can epitope prediction methods be used to identify these hotspots? We found that vaccine responses clustered into epitope hotspots in all three vaccine trials and some of these hotspots were not observed in chronic natural infection. We also found significant differences between the immunodominance patterns generated in each trial, even comparing two trials that tested the same vaccine in different populations. Some of the vaccine-induced immunodominant hotspots were located in highly variable regions of the HIV genome, and this was more evident for the MRKAd-5 HIV vaccine. Finally, we found that epitope prediction methods can partially predict the location of vaccine-induced epitope hotspots. Our findings have implications for vaccine design and suggest a framework by which different vaccine candidates can be compared in early phases of evaluation.
Author Summary
The HIV epidemic is a major global health challenge leading to more than 1.8 million deaths annually, and despite significant efforts, the search for an efficacious and safe vaccine continues. Several candidate vaccines were designed to elicit CD8+ T-cell responses and were based on using recombinant Adenovirus serotype 5 (rAd-5) vector that expresses HIV-derived antigens. While none of these vaccines had protective effects, they provide an opportunity to study vaccine-induced T-cell responses on a population level. Here, we analyze data from the three largest epitope mapping studies performed in three clinical trials testing two rAd-5 vaccines. We find that vaccine-induced responses tend to cluster in “epitope hotspots” and that these hotspots are different for each vaccine and more surprisingly in two different vaccine trials testing the same vaccine. We also compared vaccine-induced hotspots to those elicited by natural infection and found that some of the vaccine-induced hotspots are not observed in natural infection. Finally, we show that epitope prediction methods can be useful for predicting vaccine induced hotspots based on participants HLA alleles.
PMCID: PMC3688560  PMID: 23818843
8.  Safety and Immunogenicity of the MRKAd5 gag HIV Type 1 Vaccine in a Worldwide Phase 1 Study of Healthy Adults 
The safety and immunogenicity of the MRK adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) HIV-1 clade B gag vaccine was assessed in an international Phase I trial. Three-hundred and sixty healthy HIV-uninfected adults were enrolled on five continents. Subjects received placebo or 1 × 109 or 1 × 1010 viral particles (vp) per dose of the MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag vaccine at day 1, week 4, and week 26. Immunogenicity was evaluated using an IFN-γ ELISPOT gag 15-mer assay with positive responses defined as ≥55 SFC/106 PBMCs and ≥4-fold over mock control. The vaccine was well tolerated. The most common adverse events were injection site reactions, headache, pyrexia, diarrhea, fatigue, and myalgia. At week 30, geometric mean ELISPOT responses were 24, 114, and 226 SFC/106 PBMCs in the placebo, 1 × 109 vp/dose, and 1 × 1010 vp/dose groups, respectively. Overall, responses to 1 × 1010 vp were 85% and 68% in subjects with low (≤200) and high (>200) baseline Ad5 titers, respectively. The MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag vaccine was immunogenic in diverse geographic regions. Gag ELISPOT responses were greater in the 1 × 1010 vp/dose groups than in the 1 × 109 vp/dose groups. Data from this first international study indicate that adenovirus-vectored vaccines are well tolerated and may be immunogenic in subjects from regions with high prevalence of preexisting Ad5 immunity.
PMCID: PMC3422055  PMID: 20854108
9.  Factors Associated With Viral Rebound in HIV-1-Infected Individuals Enrolled in a Therapeutic HIV-1 gag Vaccine Trial 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2011;203(7):976-983.
Background. Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) vaccines directed to the cell-mediated immune system could have a role in lowering the plasma HIV-1 RNA set point, which may reduce infectivity and delay disease progression.
Methods. Randomized, placebo-controlled trial involving HIV-1-infected participants who received a recombinant adenovirus serotype 5 (rAd5) HIV-1 gag vaccine or placebo. Sequence-based HLA typing was performed for all 110 participants who initiated analytic treatment interruption (ATI) to assess the role of HLA types previously associated with HIV prognosis. Plasma HIV-1 gag and pol RNA sequences were obtained during the ATI. Virologic endpoints and HLA groups were compared between treatment arms using the 2-sample rank sum test. A linear regression model was fitted to derive independent correlates of ATI week 16 plasma viral load (w16 PVL).
Results. Vaccinated participants with neutral HLA alleles had lower median w16 PVLs than did vaccinated participants with protective HLA alleles (P = .01) or placebo participants with neutral HLA alleles (P = .02). Factors independently associated with lower w16 PVL included lower pre-antiretroviral therapy PVL, greater Gag sequence divergence from the vaccine sequence, decreased proportion of HLA-associated polymorphisms in Gag, and randomization to the vaccine arm.
Conclusions. Therapeutic vaccination with a rAd5-HIV gag vaccine was associated with lower ATI week 16 PVL even after controlling for viral and host genetic factors.
Clinical Trials Registration. NCT00080106.
PMCID: PMC3068025  PMID: 21402549
10.  Host Genetic Determinants of T Cell Responses to the MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag/pol/nef Vaccine in the Step Trial 
The Journal of Infectious Diseases  2011;203(6):773-779.
Understanding how human genetic variation impacts individual response to immunogens is fundamental for rational vaccine development. To explore host mechanisms involved in cellular immune responses to the MRKAd5 human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) gag/pol/nef vaccine tested in the Step trial, we performed a genome-wide association study of determinants of HIV-specific T cell responses, measured by interferon γ enzyme-linked immunospot assays. No human genetic variant reached genome-wide significance, but polymorphisms located in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region showed the strongest association with response to the HIV-1 Gag protein: HLA-B alleles known to be associated with differences in HIV-1 control were responsible for these associations. The implication of the same HLA alleles in vaccine-induced cellular immunity and in natural immune control is of relevance for vaccine design. Furthermore, our results demonstrate the importance of considering the host immunogenetic background in the analysis of immune responses to T cell vaccines.
PMCID: PMC3071133  PMID: 21278214
11.  Low-Dose Penile SIVmac251 Exposure of Rhesus Macaques Infected with Adenovirus Type 5 (Ad5) and Then Immunized with a Replication-Defective Ad5-Based SIV gag/pol/nef Vaccine Recapitulates the Results of the Phase IIb Step Trial of a Similar HIV-1 Vaccine 
Journal of Virology  2012;86(4):2239-2250.
The Step Trial showed that the MRKAd5 HIV-1 subtype B Gag/Pol/Nef vaccine did not protect men from HIV infection or reduce setpoint plasma viral RNA (vRNA) levels but, unexpectedly, it did modestly enhance susceptibility to HIV infection in adenovirus type 5 (Ad5)-seropositive, uncircumcised men. As part of the process to understand the results of the Step Trial, we designed a study to determine whether rhesus macaques chronically infected with a host-range mutant Ad5 (Ad5hr) and then immunized with a replication defective Ad5 SIVmac239 Gag/Pol/Nef vaccine were more resistant or susceptible to SIV infection than unimmunized rhesus macaques challenged with a series of escalating dose penile exposures to SIVmac 251. The Ad5 SIV vaccine induced CD8+ T cell responses in 70% of the monkeys, which is similar to the proportion of humans that responded to the vaccine in the Step Trial. However, the vaccine did not protect vaccinated animals from penile SIV challenge. At the lowest SIV exposure dose (103 50% tissue culture infective doses), 2 of 9 Ad5-seropositive animals immunized with the Ad5 SIV vaccine became infected compared to 0 of 34 animals infected in the other animal groups (naive animals, Ad5-seropositive animals immunized with the empty Ad5 vector, Ad5-seronegative animals immunized with the Ad5 SIV vaccine, and Ad5-seronegative animals immunized with the empty Ad5 vector). Penile exposure to more concentrated virus inocula produced similar rates of infection in all animal groups. Although setpoint viral loads were unaffected in Step vaccinees, the Ad5 SIV-immunized animals had significantly lower acute-phase plasma vRNA levels compared to unimmunized animals. Thus, the results of the nonhuman primate (NHP) study described here recapitulate the lack of protection against HIV acquisition seen in the Step Trial and suggest a greater risk of infection in the Ad5-seropositive animals immunized with the Ad5 SIV vaccine. Further studies are necessary to confirm the enhancement of virus acquisition and to discern associated mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3302390  PMID: 22156519
12.  Human adenovirus-specific T cells modulate HIV-specific T cell responses to an Ad5-vectored HIV-1 vaccine 
Recombinant viruses hold promise as vectors for vaccines to prevent infectious diseases with significant global health impacts. One of their major limitations is that preexisting anti-vector neutralizing antibodies can reduce T cell responses to the insert antigens; however, the impact of vector-specific cellular immunity on subsequent insert-specific T cell responses has not been assessed in humans. Here, we have identified and compared adenovirus-specific and HIV-specific T cell responses in subjects participating in two HIV-1 vaccine trials using a vaccine vectored by adenovirus serotype 5 (Ad5). Higher frequencies of pre-immunization adenovirus-specific CD4+ T cells were associated with substantially decreased magnitude of HIV-specific CD4+ T cell responses and decreased breadth of HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses in vaccine recipients, independent of type-specific preexisting Ad5-specific neutralizing antibody titers. Further, epitopes recognized by adenovirus-specific T cells were commonly conserved across many adenovirus serotypes, suggesting that cross-reactivity of preexisting adenovirus-specific T cells can extend to adenovirus vectors derived from rare serotypes. These findings provide what we believe to be a new understanding of how preexisting viral immunity may impact the efficacy of vaccines under current evaluation for prevention of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.
PMCID: PMC3248307  PMID: 22201684
13.  Genetic impact of vaccination on breakthrough HIV-1 sequences from the Step trial 
Nature medicine  2011;17(3):366-371.
We analyzed HIV-1 genome sequences from 68 newly-infected volunteers in the Step HIV-1 vaccine trial. To determine whether the vaccine exerted selective T-cell pressure on breakthrough viruses, we identified potential T-cell epitopes in the founder sequences and compared them to epitopes in the vaccine. We found greater distances for sequences from vaccine recipients than from placebo recipients (p-values ranging from < 0.0001 to 0.09). The most significant signature site distinguishing vaccine from placebo recipients was Gag-84, a site encompassed by several epitopes contained in the vaccine and restricted by HLA alleles common in the cohort. Moreover, the extended divergence was confined to the vaccine components of the virus (Gag, Pol, Nef) and not found in other HIV-1 proteins. These results represent the first evidence of selective pressure from vaccine-induced T-cell responses on HIV-1 infection.
PMCID: PMC3053571  PMID: 21358627
14.  Vaccination with Ad5 Vectors Expands Ad5-Specific CD8+ T Cells without Altering Memory Phenotype or Functionality 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(12):e14385.
Adenoviral (Ad) vaccine vectors represent both a vehicle to present a novel antigen to the immune system as well as restimulation of immune responses against the Ad vector itself. To what degree Ad-specific CD8+ T cells are restimulated by Ad vector vaccination is unclear, although such knowledge would be important as vector-specific CD8+ T cell expansion could potentially further limit Ad vaccine efficacy beyond Ad-specific neutralizing antibody alone.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Here we addressed this issue by measuring human Adenovirus serotype 5 (Ad5)-specific CD8+ T cells in recipients of the Merck Ad5 HIV-1 vaccine vector before, during, and after vaccination by multicolor flow cytometry. Ad5-specific CD8+ T-cells were detectable in 95% of subjects prior to vaccination, and displayed primarily an effector-type functional profile and phenotype. Peripheral blood Ad5-specific CD8+ T-cell numbers expanded after Ad5-HIV vaccination in all subjects, but differential expansion kinetics were noted in some baseline Ad5-neutralizing antibody (Ad5 nAb) seronegative subjects compared to baseline Ad5 nAb seropositive subjects. However, in neither group did vaccination alter polyfunctionality, mucosal targeting marker expression, or memory phenotype of Ad5-specific CD8+ T-cells.
These data indicate that repeat Ad5-vector administration in humans expands Ad5-specific CD8+ T-cells without overtly affecting their functional capacity or phenotypic properties. This is a secondary analysis of samples collected during the 016 trial. Results of the Merck 016 trial safety and immunogenicity have been previously published in the journal of clinical infectious diseases [1].
Trial Registration NCT00849680 [NCT00849680]
PMCID: PMC3008674  PMID: 21203546
15.  Adenovirus-Specific Immunity Following Immunization with an Ad5 HIV-1 Vaccine Candidate in Humans 
Nature medicine  2009;15(8):873-875.
The immunologic basis for the potential enhanced HIV-1 acquisition in Ad5 seropositive individuals who received the Merck rAd5 HIV-1 vaccine in the STEP study remains unclear. Here we show that baseline Ad5-specific neutralizing antibodies are not correlated with Ad5-specific T lymphocyte responses and that Ad5 seropositive subjects do not develop higher vector-specific cellular immune responses as compared with Ad5 seronegative subjects following vaccination. These findings challenge the hypothesis that activated Ad5-specific T lymphocytes were the cause of the potential enhanced HIV-1 susceptibility in the STEP study.
PMCID: PMC2756115  PMID: 19620961
16.  Baseline Ad5 serostatus does not predict Ad5-HIV vaccine-induced expansion of Ad-specific CD4+ T-cells 
Nature medicine  2009;15(8):876-878.
The mechanisms underlying possible increased HIV-1 acquisition in adenovirus 5 (Ad5)-seropositive subjects vaccinated with Ad5-HIV-1 vectors in the Merck STEP trial remain unclear. We find Ad5 serostatus does not predict Ad5-specific CD4+ T-cell frequency, and no durable significant differences in Ad5-specific CD4+ T-cells between Ad5-seropositive and seronegative subjects were observed following vaccination. These findings indicate no causative role for Ad5-specific CD4+ T-cells in increasing HIV-1 susceptibility in the STEP trial.
PMCID: PMC2723179  PMID: 19620962
17.  Safety and Immunogenicity of Adenovirus-Vectored Near-Consensus HIV Type 1 Clade B gag Vaccines in Healthy Adults 
Vaccines inducing pathogen-specific cell-mediated immunity are being developed using attenuated adenoviral (Ad) vectors. We report the results of two independent Phase I trials of similar replication-deficient Ad5 vaccines containing a near-consensus HIV-1 clade B gag transgene. Healthy HIV-uninfected adults were enrolled in two separate, multicenter, dose-escalating, blinded, placebo-controlled studies to assess the safety and immunogenicity of a three-dose homologous regimen of Ad5 and MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag vaccines given on day 1, week 4, and week 26. Adverse events were collected for 29 days following each intradeltoid injection. The primary immunogenicity endpoint was the proportion of subjects with a positive unfractionated Gag-specific IFN-γ ELISPOT response measured 4 weeks after the last dose (week 30). Analyses were performed after combining data for each dose group from both protocols, stratifying by baseline Ad5 titers. Overall, 252 subjects were randomized to receive either vaccine or placebo, including 229 subjects (91%) who completed the study through week 30. Tolerability and immunogenicity did not appear to differ between the Ad5 and MRKAd5 vaccines. The frequency of injection-site reactions was dose dependent. Systemic adverse events were also dose dependent and more frequent in subjects with baseline Ad5 titers <200 versus ≥200, especially after the first dose. The percent of ELISPOT responders and the ELISPOT geometric means overall were significantly higher for all four vaccine doses studied compared to placebo, and were generally higher in vaccine recipients with baseline Ad5 titers <200 versus ≥200. Ad5 titers increased after vaccination in a dose-dependent fashion. Both Ad5-vectored HIV-1 vaccines were generally well tolerated and induced cell-mediated immune responses against HIV Gag-peptides in the majority of healthy adults with baseline Ad5 titers <200. Preexistent and/or vaccine-induced immunity to the Ad5 vector may dampen the CMI response to HIV Gag.
PMCID: PMC3256563  PMID: 19108693
18.  HIV-1 vaccine-induced immunity in the test-of-concept Step Study: a case-cohort analysis 
Lancet  2008;372(9653):1894-1905.
In the Step Study, the MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag/pol/nef vaccine did not lower post-infection plasma viremia, and HIV-1 incidence was higher in vaccine-treated than placebo-treated males with pre-existing adenovirus serotype 5 (Ad5) immunity. We evaluated vaccine-induced immunity and its potential contributions to infection risk.
To assess immunogenicity, HIV-specific T-cells were characterized ex vivo using validated IFN-γ ELISpot and intracellular cytokine staining (ICS) assays, employing a case-cohort design. To determine effects of vaccine and pre-existing Ad5 immunity on infection risk, flow cytometric studies measured Ad5-specific T-cells and circulating activated (Ki67+/Bcl- 2lo) CD4+ T-cells expressing CCR5.
IFN-γ-secreting HIV-specific T-cells (range, 163–686/106 PBMC) were detected ex vivo by ELISpot in 77% (258/354) of vaccinees; the majority recognized 2–3 HIV proteins. HIV- specific CD4+ T-cells were identified by ICS in 41%; ~85% expressed IL-2, and two-thirds of these co-expressed IFN-γ and/or TNF-α. HIV-specific CD8+ T-cells (range, 0.4–1.0%) were observed in 73%, expressing predominantly either IFN-γ alone or with TNF-α. No major differences were found in vaccine-induced HIV-specific immunity, including response rate, magnitude, and cytokine profile comparing vaccinated male cases (pre-infection) with non-cases. Interestingly, Ad5-specific T-cells were lower in cases than non-cases in several subgroup analyses. The percent circulating Ki67+Bcl-2lo/CCR5+ CD4+ T-cells did not differ between cases and non-cases.
Consistent with previous trials, the MrkAd5/HIV-1 gag/pol/nef vaccine was highly immunogenic for inducing HIV-specific CD8+ T-cells. Comparative analyses did not reveal differences in HIV-specific immunologic responses between cases and non-cases that explain the lack of vaccine efficacy and potential infection enhancement. If T-cell immunity is critical in vaccine-induced HIV protection, our findings suggest that future candidate vaccines must elicit responses that either exceed in magnitude or differ in breadth and/or function from those observed in this trial.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, U.S. National Institute of Health; Merck Research Laboratories
PMCID: PMC2774110  PMID: 19012957
19.  Efficacy assessment of a cell-mediated immunity HIV-1 vaccine (the Step Study): a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, test-of-concept trial 
Lancet  2008;372(9653):1881-1893.
Observational data and non-human primate challenge studies suggest that cell-mediated immune (CMI) responses may provide control of HIV replication. The Step Study is the first direct assessment of the efficacy of a CMI vaccine to protect against HIV infection or alter early plasma HIV levels in humans.
HIV-seronegative participants (3000) were randomized (1:1) to receive 3 injections of MRKAd5 HIV-1 gag/pol/nef vaccine or placebo. Randomization was pre-stratified by gender, baseline adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) titer, and study site. Participants were tested ~every 6 months for HIV acquisition; early plasma HIV RNA was measured ~3 months post-HIV diagnosis.
The vaccine elicited IFN-γ ELISPOT responses in 75% of vaccinees. In a pre-specified interim analysis among participants with baseline Ad5 ≤200, 24 of 741 vaccinees became HIV infected, versus 21 of 762 placebo recipients. All but one infection occurred in men. The early geometric mean plasma HIV RNA was comparable in infected vaccine and placebo recipients. In exploratory multivariate analyses, HIV incidence was higher in vaccinees versus placebo recipients among Ad5 seropositive men (5.1% versus 2.2% per year, respectively) and uncircumcised men (5.2% versus 1.4% per year, respectively). HIV incidence was similar in vaccinees versus placebo recipients among Ad5 seronegative men and circumcised men.
This CMI vaccine did not prevent HIV infection or lower early viral level. Mechanisms for failure of the vaccine to protect and for the increased HIV infection rates in subgroups of vaccinees are being explored. Additional follow-up will determine if elevated HIV incidence in vaccinee subgroups persists.
PMCID: PMC2721012  PMID: 19012954
HIV vaccine; efficacy; adenovirus; HIV acquisition; viral load; male circumcision; test of concept
20.  DNA gag/Adenovirus Type 5 (Ad5) gag and Ad5 gag/Ad5 gag Vaccines Induce Distinct T-Cell Response Profiles▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(16):8161-8171.
Results from Merck's phase II adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) gag/pol/nef test-of-concept trial showed that the vaccine lacked efficacy against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection in a high-risk population. Among the many questions to be explored following this outcome are whether (i) the Ad5 vaccine induced the quality of T-cell responses necessary for efficacy and (ii) the lack of efficacy in the Ad5 vaccine can be generalized to other vector approaches intended to induce HIV type 1 (HIV-1)-specific T-cell responses. Here we present a comprehensive evaluation of the T-cell response profiles from cohorts of clinical trial subjects who received the HIV CAM-1 gag insert delivered by either a regimen with DNA priming followed by Ad5 boosting (n = 50) or a homologous Ad5/Ad5 prime-boost regimen (n = 70). The samples were tested using a statistically qualified nine-color intracellular cytokine staining assay measuring interleukin-2 (IL-2), tumor necrosis factor alpha, macrophage inflammatory protein 1β, and gamma interferon production and expression of CD107a. Both vaccine regimens induced CD4+ and CD8+ HIV gag-specific T-cell responses which variably expressed several intracellular markers. Several trends were observed in which the frequencies of HIV-1-specific CD4+ T cells and IL-2 production from antigen-specific CD8+ T cells in the DNA/Ad5 cohort were more pronounced than in the Ad5/Ad5 cohort. Implications of these results for future vaccine development will be discussed.
PMCID: PMC2519591  PMID: 18524823
21.  Primary Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 (HIV-1) Infection during HIV-1 Gag Vaccination▿  
Journal of Virology  2008;82(6):2784-2791.
Vaccination for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) remains an elusive goal. Whether an unsuccessful vaccine might not only fail to provoke detectable immune responses but also could actually interfere with subsequent natural immunity upon HIV-1 infection is unknown. We performed detailed assessment of an HIV-1 gag DNA vaccine recipient (subject 00015) who was previously uninfected but sustained HIV-1 infection before completing a vaccination trial and another contemporaneously acutely infected individual (subject 00016) with the same strain of HIV-1. Subject 00015 received the vaccine at weeks 0, 4, and 8 and was found to have been acutely HIV-1 infected around the time of the third vaccination. Subject 00016 was a previously HIV-1-seronegative sexual contact who had symptoms of acute HIV-1 infection approximately 2 weeks earlier than subject 00015 and demonstrated subsequent seroconversion. Both individuals reached an unusually low level of chronic viremia (<1,000 copies/ml) without treatment. Subject 00015 had no detectable HIV-1-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) responses until a borderline response was noted at the time of the third vaccination. The magnitude and breadth of Gag-specific CTL responses in subject 00015 were similar to those of subject 00016 during early chronic infection. Viral sequences from gag, pol, and nef confirmed the common source of HIV-1 between these individuals. The diversity and divergence of sequences in subjects 00015 and 00016 were similar, indicating similar immune pressure on these proteins (including Gag). As a whole, the data suggested that while the gag DNA vaccine did not prime detectable early CTL responses in subject 00015, vaccination did not appreciably impair his ability to contain viremia at levels similar to those in subject 00016.
PMCID: PMC2259011  PMID: 18199650

Results 1-21 (21)