Conserved immunogens in prime-boost strategies for the next-generation HIV-1 vaccines.
INTRODUCTION: Effective vaccines are the best solution for stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Their development and in-depth understanding of pathogen-host interactions rely on technological advances. AREAS COVERED: Rational vaccine development can be effectively approached by conceptual separation of, on one hand, design of immunogens from improving their presentation to the immune system and, on the other, induction of antibodies from induction of killer CD8(+) T cells. The biggest roadblock for many vaccines is the pathogens' variability. This is best tackled by focusing both antibodies and T cells on the functionally most conserved regions of proteins common to many variants, including escape mutants. For vectored vaccines, these 'universal' subunit immunogens are most efficiently delivered using heterologous prime-boost regimens, which can be further optimised by adjuvantation and route of delivery. EXPERT OPINION: Development of vaccines against human diseases has many features in common. Acceleration of vaccine discovery depends on basic research and new technologies. Novel strategies should be safely, but rapidly tested in humans. While out-of-the-box thinking is important, vaccine success largely depends on incremental advances best achieved through small, systematic, iterative clinical studies. Failures are inevitable, but the end rewards are huge. The future will be exciting.