Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) announced positive results for its HIV vaccine trials in monkeys.

The study was conducted by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Crucell Holland BV (a Janssen Pharmaceutical Company), and several other research collaborators. The study was published in the online edition ofScience.

“Despite great progress in HIV treatments, HIV remains one of the greatest global health threats of our time with millions continuing to be infected each year,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer and worldwide chairman, Pharmaceuticals, ofJohnson & Johnson in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine that prevents HIV in the first place. By Janssencollaborating with multiple stakeholders on new tools, we hope one day to help eradicate HIV.”

The study tested the HIV vaccine on monkeys and found it to be successful in about 50 percent of the study group. The vaccine was made up of two parts, a cold-causing virus that contained three HIV proteins, which caused the monkey’s immune systems to generate antibodies, and a purified HIV boosters that increased the immune response. Before being injected with HIV, the monkeys received the vaccine.

Twelve monkeys received the prime vaccine and another 12 received the prime-boost vaccines. An additional eight primates were given so-called “sham inoculations.” The monkeys were then injected with six doses of monkey HIV.

Two of the 12 monkeys injected with the prime vaccine were HIV-free. Of the 12 that were given the prime-boost vaccines, six, or 50 percent, were free of HIV. The eight monkeys that received a placebo were all HIV positive.

“We do not know for sure whether a vaccine that protects in monkeys will in fact protect in humans, said Dan Barouch with theBeth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Ragon Institute at Harvard, the study’s lead researcher, in a Tech times article. However, he and other researcher are optimistic that it can.

An international trial is now starting in 400 healthy volunteers in the U.S., East Africa, South Africa and Thailand. The same prime-boost approach is being tested in J&J’s Ebola vaccine, which is currently in early-stage human trials.

“I do think that their results are impressive,” said Mary Marovich, director of the vaccine research program at the National Institute of Allergy And Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to the Inquisitr. “Even protecting half of the people who are exposed to the virus would be a major accomplishment. It could ultimately end the epidemic when you use it in combination with other measures.”

A vaccine for HIV has been a long and difficult road. Of the numerous studies, only four have been successful enough to be studied in humans, and only one has shown any indication of working. That study was funded by the U.S. and involved more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand. It looked at a combination of ALVAC, manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis SA, andAIDSVAX, made by VaxGen Inc. It reduced infections by 31.2 percent in recipients compared to those receiving a placebo.

Many companies have been reluctant to venture into the HIV vaccine arena since Merck & Co. (MRK)’s Ad5 vaccine for HIV appeared to increase patient’s risk of HIV infection.

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