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URMC HIV research program helps develop COVID-19 vaccine

Rochester Victory Alliance is a University of Rochester research program dedicated to finding an HIV vaccine. But the program has put its HIV research on hold to work on a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment program.

Michael Keefer, director and principal investigator for Rochester Victory Alliance, says the decision came once the HIV Vaccine Trials NetworkGlobal Research Network that they are a part of, joined the COVID-19 Prevention Network.

“We just sort of changed hats and basically are doing what we did before with considerable
success. The early data looks outstanding with some of these COVID vaccines,” said Keefer.

Keefer says there are a lot of similarities between developing a vaccine for HIV and COVID-19, so the transition was fairly simple. He says the challenges in finding an HIV vaccine has benefitted the progress to finding a vaccine for COVID-19.

“The early studies looked really exciting and moving to the trials we have some confirmation that these antibodies actually do protect people,” said Keefer.

The Rochester Victory Alliance and the University of Rochester are part of a local campaign to encourage local participation in vaccine trials called Bring ROC Back. Keefer says that it is more challenging to find participants for HIV studies than for COVID vaccine research. 

Even with the change in focus, Keefer says the Rochester Victory Alliance hasn't abandoned their mission to find a HIV vaccine. They plan to return to that research early next year.

April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.