At the conclusion of a HIV-1 vaccine efficacy trial a characterization of the “breakthrough” viruses that infect trial participants can help to elucidate the mechanisms of imperfect or heterogeneous protection. The approach, known as “sieve analysis”, can identify the functional specificities of vaccine-induced immune responses by comparing the genetic sequences of viruses isolated from vaccine versus placebo recipients. We have created an interactive web-based visualization and data API for exploring the results of sieve analyses performed on four major efficacy trials: (1) the HVTN 502/Step trial, (2) the HVTN 503/Phambili trial, (3) the MHRP/Thai Health Ministry RV144 trial, and (4) the HVTN 505 trial. The tool acts simultaneously as a portal for organizing and sharing the viral sequence data generated for these trials and as a platform for discovery of pertinent sieve effects as ongoing follow-up studies of the vaccines continue to test and validate sieve analysis findings.
Software for sieve analysis: PySieve
We analyzed HIV-1 genome sequences from 68 newly infected volunteers in the STEP HIV-1 vaccine trial. To determine whether the vaccine exerted selective T cell pressure on breakthrough viruses, we identified potential T cell epitopes in the founder sequences and compared them to epitopes in the vaccine. We found greater distances to the vaccine sequence for sequences from vaccine recipients than from placebo recipients. The most significant signature site distinguishing vaccine from placebo recipients was Gag amino acid 84, a site encompassed by several epitopes contained in the vaccine and restricted by human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles common in the study cohort. Moreover, the extended divergence was confined to the vaccine components of the virus (HIV-1 Gag, Pol and Nef) and not found in other HIV-1 proteins. These results represent what is to our knowledge the first evidence of selective pressure from vaccine-induced T cell responses on HIV-1 infection in humans..
Buchbinder, Susan P. et al. "Efficacy Assessment of a Cell-Mediated Immunity HIV-1 Vaccine (the Step Study): A Double-Blind, Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Test-of-Concept Trial." Lancet 372.9653 (2008): 1881-1893.
INTRODUCTION: The Merck Adenovirus-5 Gag/Pol/Nef HIV-1 subtype-B vaccine evaluated in predominately subtype B epidemic regions (Step Study), while not preventing infection, exerted vaccine-induced immune pressure on HIV-1 breakthrough infections. Here we investigated if the same vaccine exerted immune pressure when tested in the Phambili Phase 2b study in a subtype C epidemic.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A sieve analysis, which compares breakthrough viruses from placebo and vaccine arms, was performed on 277 near full-length genomes generated from 23 vaccine and 20 placebo recipients. Vaccine coverage was estimated by computing the percentage of 9-mers that were exact matches to the vaccine insert.
RESULTS: There was significantly greater protein distances from the vaccine immunogen sequence in Gag (p=0.045) and Nef (p=0.021) in viruses infecting vaccine recipients compared to placebo recipients. Twenty-seven putative sites of vaccine-induced pressure were identified (p<0.05) in Gag (n=10), Pol (n=7) and Nef (n=10), although they did not remain significant after adjustment for multiple comparisons. We found the epitope sieve effect in Step was driven by HLA A*02:01; an allele which was found in low frequency in Phambili participants compared to Step participants. Furthermore, the coverage of the vaccine against subtype C Phambili viruses was 31%, 46% and 14% for Gag, Pol and Nef, respectively, compared to subtype B Step virus coverage of 56%, 61% and 26%, respectively.
DISCUSSION: This study presents evidence of sieve effects in Gag and Nef; however could not confirm effects on specific amino acid sites. We propose that this weaker signal of vaccine immune pressure detected in the Phambili study compared to the Step study may have been influenced by differences in host genetics (HLA allele frequency) and reduced impact of vaccine-induced immune responses due to mismatch between the viral subtype in the vaccine and infecting subtypes..
Gray, GE et al. "Safety and Efficacy Assessment of the HVTN 503/Phambili Study: A Double-Blind Randomized Placebo-Controlled Test-of-Concept Study of a Clade B-Based HIV-1 Vaccine in South Africa." The Lancet infectious diseases 11.7 (2011): 507-515.
The RV144 clinical trial showed the partial efficacy of a vaccine regimen with an estimated vaccine efficacy (VE) of 31% for protecting low-risk Thai volunteers against acquisition of HIV-1. The impact of vaccine-induced immune responses can be investigated through sieve analysis of HIV-1 breakthrough infections (infected vaccine and placebo recipients). A V1/V2-targeted comparison of the genomes of HIV-1 breakthrough viruses identified two V2 amino acid sites that differed between the vaccine and placebo groups. Here we extended the V1/V2 analysis to the entire HIV-1 genome using an array of methods based on individual sites, k-mers and genes/proteins. We identified 56 amino acid sites or "signatures" and 119 k-mers that differed between the vaccine and placebo groups. Of those, 19 sites and 38 k-mers were located in the regions comprising the RV144 vaccine (Env-gp120, Gag, and Pro). The nine signature sites in Env-gp120 were significantly enriched for known antibody-associated sites (p = 0.0021). In particular, site 317 in the third variable loop (V3) overlapped with a hotspot of antibody recognition, and sites 369 and 424 were linked to CD4 binding site neutralization. The identified signature sites significantly covaried with other sites across the genome (mean = 32.1) more than did non-signature sites (mean = 0.9) (p < 0.0001), suggesting functional and/or structural relevance of the signature sites. Since signature sites were not preferentially restricted to the vaccine immunogens and because most of the associations were insignificant following correction for multiple testing, we predict that few of the genetic differences are strongly linked to the RV144 vaccine-induced immune pressure. In addition to presenting results of the first complete-genome analysis of the breakthrough infections in the RV144 trial, this work describes a set of statistical methods and tools applicable to analysis of breakthrough infection genomes in general vaccine efficacy trials for diverse pathogens..
Sieve analysis manuscript submitted for publication.