Integration of clinical and social science needed to advance HIV vaccines

Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative researcher Peter Newman said on Friday that clinical and social sciences need to be integrated in order for HIV vaccine clinical trials to advance.

Newman said testing vaccines ultimately involve human clinical trials, and research teams need to collaborate to determine potential volunteers' understanding and ethical boundaries of testing.

"We don't want trials to be built on misunderstanding because participants are then much more wary and may pull out of a trial," Newman said. "It's important that participants understand no one is trying to hurt them."

Newman is working with research teams in India and South Africa to research recognizing and understanding social, cultural and language barriers involved with obtaining informed consent from clinical trial participants.

"Dr. Newman's work is setting the stage for vaccine uptake in the long term because it addresses the social and behavioral factors that are relevant to potential participants in future vaccine clinical trials," Greg Hammond, the director of the CHVI Research and Development Alliance Coordinating Office, said. "The integration of social and clinical science is vital to advancing HIV vaccines."

Newman is working with men who have sex with men and sex worker communities in Mumbai and Chennai, India. So far, research shows there is misunderstanding of placebo and random assignment trials, which leads to a false belief that medications used in the trials offer protection from HIV infection.

"What is the way local communities understand and communicate about what a vaccine does?" Newman said. "How are you engaging with trial participants beginning with their existing conceptions of HIV, vaccines and clinical trials? We can avert a lot of misunderstanding by asking such questions."

Newman said involving community leaders and teachers early in the process is important in helping potential trial participants and helps provide informed consent.

"It will pave the way to more effective communication and more solid clinical trials," Newman said.