New Grant Program Encourages Innovative AIDS Vaccine Research

Date: March 5, 1997
Source: National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Author: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Acting on the recommendation of an expert advisory panel, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has unveiled a new grant program designed to speed the pace of AIDS vaccine discovery and development. Called the INNOVATION Grant Program for Approaches in HIV Vaccine Research, the new initiative will support research projects that may involve a high degree of innovation, risk and novelty, and that show clear promise for improving vaccine design or evaluation.

This important initiative demonstrates our commitment to finding ways to prevent HIV infection and AIDS," says Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala. "While recent advances in treatment show that we are making real progress against HIV/AIDS, a vaccine remains our best hope for stopping this epidemic."

This new grant program will enable us to rapidly exploit new scientific opportunities and broaden the base of scientific inquiry related to AIDS vaccine research," adds NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

Investigators with no HIV research experience are encouraged to apply for research support under the INNOVATION program. "INNOVATION will help bring creative ideas and new people into AIDS vaccine research," says David Baltimore, Ph.D., chair of the AIDS Vaccine Research Committee (AVRC), which endorsed the program at its first meeting on February 17. INNOVATION awards will be targeted at $150,000 per year in direct costs. The first phase of this pilot grant program encourages three areas of research:

  • Understanding the structure and function of the HIV envelope protein (Env). This essential protein adopts a specific, but undefined structure for entry into cells. Defining this structure would provide important information for HIV vaccine design.
  • Improved animal models for vaccine and pathogenesis studies. Current animal models for HIV do not fully reflect the spectrum of HIV disease as seen in humans, and few models can predict the effectiveness of vaccine candidates.
  • Understanding the mechanisms of directing antigen processing in vivo to maximize the immune response. Scientists do not know the mechanism of action for many vaccine products. Determining where and how vaccines are processed within the body would allow researchers to direct and control the immune response and would greatly advance vaccine efforts against many diseases.

The program represents the AVRC's first action to help stimulate HIV vaccine research. The committee was created earlier this year after an external review panel called for improved coordination of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported AIDS vaccine activities. The AVRC assists NIH in developing a comprehensive research program aimed at expediting the discovery and development of a safe and effective AIDS vaccine. It is also responsible for advising the HIV/AIDS vaccine research program at NIH about scientific opportunities, gaps in knowledge, and future directions of HIV/AIDS vaccine research. In addition to Dr. Baltimore, a professor of molecular biology and immunology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, members of the committee include:

  • Barry Bloom, M.D. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Albert Einstein College of Medicine Bronx, N.Y.
  • Robert Couch, M.D. Baylor College of Medicine Houston, Texas
  • Beatrice Hahn, M.D. University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, Ala.
  • Peter Kim, Ph.D. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Whitehead Institute Cambridge, Mass.
  • Norman Letvin, M.D. Harvard Medical School Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Boston, Mass.
  • Daniel Littman, M.D., Ph.D. Howard Hughes Medical Institute Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine New York University Medical Center New York, N.Y.
  • Neal Nathanson, M.D. University of Pennsylvania Medical Center Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Douglas Richman, M.D. University of California at San Diego La Jolla, Calif.
  • William Snow San Francisco, Calif.
  • Irving Weisman, M.D. Stanford University School of Medicine Stanford, Calif.

An announcement requesting applications under the new program will be released March 7 in the NIH Guide to Grants and Contracts. Applications will be due on or before May 23, 1997. For more information about the INNOVATION Grant Program contact Dr. Carole Heilman, associate director for scientific program development, Division of AIDS, NIAID.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses such as HIV disease and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, asthma and allergies. NIH is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

NIAID press releases, fact sheets and other materials are available on the Internet via the NIAID home page at