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What is a Therapeutic HIV Vaccine?

Last Reviewed: August 16, 2017

Key Points

  • A therapeutic HIV vaccine is a vaccine that’s designed to improve the body’s immune response to HIV in a person who already has HIV.
  • There are currently no therapeutic HIV vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but research is under way.
  • Researchers are exploring therapeutic HIV vaccines (1) to slow down the progression of HIV infection, (2) to eliminate the need for antiretroviral therapy (ART) while still keeping undetectable levels of HIV, and (3) as part of a larger strategy to eliminate all HIV from the body.

What is a therapeutic HIV vaccine?

A therapeutic HIV vaccine is a vaccine that’s designed to improve the body’s immune response to HIV in a person who already has HIV.

Researchers are developing and testing therapeutic HIV vaccines to slow down the progression of HIV infection and ideally result in undetectable levels of HIV without the need for regular antiretroviral therapy (ART). (ART is the recommended treatment for HIV infection and involves using a combination of different HIV medicines to prevent HIV from replicating. Currently, a person with HIV must remain on ART to keep HIV at undetectable levels.)

A therapeutic HIV vaccine may also slow a person’s progression to AIDS and may make it less likely that a person could transmit HIV to others.

Researchers are also evaluating therapeutic HIV vaccines as part of a larger strategy to eliminate all HIV from the body and cure people of HIV. This kind of strategy may involve using other drugs and therapies in addition to a therapeutic HIV vaccine. HIV cure research is still in early exploratory stages, and it is not known what strategies may or may not work.

How is a therapeutic HIV vaccine different from a preventive HIV vaccine?

A preventive HIV vaccine is given to people who do not have HIV, with the goal of preventing HIV infection in the future. The vaccine would teach the person’s immune system to recognize and effectively fight HIV in case the virus ever enters the person’s body.

A therapeutic HIV vaccine is given to people who already have HIV. The goal of a therapeutic HIV vaccine is to strengthen a person’s immune response to the HIV that is already in the person’s body.

Are there any FDA-approved therapeutic HIV vaccines?

There are currently no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapeutic HIV vaccines, but research is under way.

Where can I get more information about clinical trials studying therapeutic HIV vaccines?

A list of clinical trials on therapeutic HIV vaccines is available from the AIDSinfo database of ClinicalTrials.gov study summaries. Click on the title of any trial in the list to see more information about the study.

Where can I learn more about therapeutic HIV vaccine research?

Visit the websites below to learn more about therapeutic HIV vaccine research. This fact sheet is based on information from these sources:

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