News Feature | March 15, 2014

$9.8M NIAID Grant To Fund HIV Vaccine Research

By Estel Grace Masangkay

A seven year $9.8 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) was awarded to four Seattle institutions and The Rockefeller University to fund HIV-1 vaccine research.

The Integrated Preclinical/Clinical AIDS Vaccine Development (IPCAVD) fund will be used for the initial phase of the project, which includes optimization and preclinical of two vaccine candidates designed to activate antibodies against HIV-1.

Alan Aderem, Seattle BioMed’s president, said “This multidisciplinary collaboration will accelerate the delivery of a novel and effective vaccine to patients.” Seattle BioMed will lead the consortium composed of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Seattle’s Children Hospital, the University of Washington, and the Rockefeller University.

The partnership will focus on two challenges. First is how to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV-1. This will include stimulating B cells which uniquely express specific B-cell receptors on their surfaces.

Leonidas Stamatatos, IPCAVD program principal investigator, told GEN, “HIV over time has evolved specifically to avoid detection by those B cells. We found a way to overcome this problem, so we designed vaccines that can now bind the B cells that eventually make those broadly neutralizing antibodies, so we know at least in the lab that we can activate those B cells. Now the big question is, we can do that in the lab, but can we do that in vivo?”

The second challenge centers on knowing what titers have to be produced in order for the antibodies to last long enough against the virus. “The first thing is to convince ourselves that we can actually make those broadly neutralizing antibodies. And then subsequently, we can think about how long we can keep them, and devise methodologies that will sustain those antibodies for extended periods of time in the body,” Dr. Stamatatos said.

After the initial phase, the project will proceed to the next stage involving actual production of the vaccines according to cGMP standards. Safety and immunogenicity will also be evaluated in a Phase I clinical trial.

The consortium expects to begin human trials before the scheduled seven years.