The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) today announced the latest contract award in its innovative HIV Vaccine Design and Development Teams (HVDDT) program, a public-private partnership mechanism aimed at accelerating HIV vaccine development. Wyeth Vaccines, a unit of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, will receive $22.8 million over the next 5 years to expand research on a vaccine candidate that has been shown to prevent an AIDS-like disease in monkeys. The candidate vaccine uses a modified livestock virus to ferry into the body two HIV genes whose proteins boost the body's immunity to HIV. Researchers hope the vaccine will stimulate both parts of the immune system: antibodies to neutralize any free-floating HIV and specialized immune cells to kill any cells that HIV does manage to infect.
"HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, May 18th, reminds us that the fight against AIDS requires the marriage of ideas and expertise from both the private and public sectors," says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "This novel NIAID research program provides incentives for moving promising HIV/AIDS vaccines from the laboratory to human trials by fostering partnerships between academic research centers and private industry."
"HIV/AIDS vaccine candidates must travel a long pipeline from idea to reality," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "The HVDDT program focuses on products in the middle of the pipeline and will bring us nearer to our goal of a safe and effective vaccine against HIV."
The vaccine candidate had its origin in the Yale University laboratory of NIAID grantee John K. Rose, Ph.D. Dr. Rose and his colleagues created a genetically engineered form of a virus called vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), which can cause a mild disease in livestock. The engineered virus contains only two HIV genes-not the entire virus-so it cannot cause HIV infection or disease. Furthermore, the hybrid virus is deliberately weakened to make it even safer.
Early tests in monkeys inoculated with the VSV vector vaccine and then "challenged" by exposure to a form of HIV yielded promising results. Although the vaccinated monkeys did not escape infection, they all developed strong immune responses that protected them against disease. The vaccine itself did not cause any illness, and it could be administered nasally, a potentially important advantage for any vaccine destined for widespread use. Expanded animal tests are underway.
The new HVDDT is led by Wyeth's Stephen Udem, M.D., Ph.D. With Dr. Rose and others, the Wyeth scientists will refine several versions of the vaccine and scale-up production capacity. Eventually, the experimental vaccine will be tested in people through NIAID's HIV Vaccine Trials Network.
NIAID launched the HVDDT program in 2000 with four contracts to public-private research teams totaling $70 million over 5 years. Like those, the new contract is milestone-driven, meaning that researchers must describe a clear development plan including timelines indicating when each phase of research will be completed. "Funds are awarded incrementally as each milestone is achieved," explains Peggy Johnston, Ph.D., associate director for HIV/AIDS vaccines, NIAID. "In this way, we encourage continual movement towards a clinically viable vaccine and also reward companies for their accomplishments along the way," she adds.
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, illness from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.