October 10, 2008
IAVI awards innovation grant to South African biotech company for the development and testing of new vaccine antigens that elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV
JOHANNESBURG, October 10, 2008 - Elevation Biotech, a start-up biotechnology company funded by LIFElab, an agency of the South African Department of Science and Technology, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the world’s only global non-profit organization dedicated solely to AIDS vaccine development, have partnered to develop the next generation of AIDS vaccine candidates.
“An AIDS vaccine remains our best hope for ending AIDS. While we have made progress in developing a vaccine, we still have a long road ahead of us,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa and member of IAVI’s Scientific Advisory Committee. “South Africa has the research infrastructure and scientific capacity to help make an AIDS vaccine a reality. IAVI’s partnership with Elevation Biotech marks an important step in this direction. I am confident that we will begin to see more North-South collaborations in the future and am proud to see Africans playing an important role in finding a solution to a disease that is decimating our continent.”
Getting the human immune system to generate antibodies capable of neutralizing HIV remains one of the greatest challenges in the field of AIDS vaccine research and development. IAVI has awarded Elevation Biotech a one-year grant to develop and test novel HIV antigens that elicit HIV-specific broadly cross-neutralizing antibodies – or antibodies that will neutralize a wide range of HIV isolates. Using a proprietary technology, Elevation Biotech aims to design antigens that deliver one of the stabilized forms of HIV envelope protein to the immune system in a way that mimics its natural conformation. Presented to the immune system in this way, the antigens have a better chance of producing neutralizing antibodies that might protect against HIV infection. To create these antigens, Elevation will generate stabilized HIV envelope and antibody immune complexes. The goal of this collaboration will be to test whether this stabilized HIV envelope immune complex is better at eliciting broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies than other immunogens tested to date.
“We are thrilled to partner with IAVI to help solve one of the toughest challenges facing AIDS vaccine researchers today,” said Grant Napier, Managing Director of Elevation. “To date, South Africa has played a significant role in the clinical testing of promising AIDS vaccine candidates. This new partnership demonstrates that South African scientists can also make important contributions to discovery efforts for new AIDS vaccine candidates to help bring an end to this devastating pandemic.”
South Africa is one of the areas hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic. “I am proud to lead a team of South African researchers who can help to play a role in rolling back the epidemic in our region,” said Professor Wendy Stevens, the Principal Investigator for the project at the University of the Witwatersrand and the South African National Health Laboratory Service, who have partnered with Elevation in this research. “If Elevation’s technology can produce an antigen that will induce the production of HIV neutralizing antibodies in humans, it will revolutionize HIV vaccine development.”
“Our investment in South African biotechnology is starting to pay off,” said Derek Hanekom, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology. “This is an exciting development and proves the international stature of South African innovation.” Blessed Okole, CEO of LIFElab said that “AIDS is the most pressing health crisis we face in South Africa today. And a vaccine will be indispensable to curbing the epidemic. IAVI’s award is a big boost to South African AIDS vaccine research efforts and one that we hope will also encourage young researchers to enter the field.”
Nearly all of the AIDS vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials are designed to stimulate cell-mediated immune responses. Most licensed vaccines against other diseases, however, work primarily by provoking antibody immune responses. But eliciting antibodies to HIV has proven exceptionally difficult. “More resources must be dedicated to overcoming the neutralizing antibody problem. Our partnership with Elevation Biotech aims to explore a novel way of stimulating the production of antibodies against HIV by creating and testing antigens that resemble the shape of the HIV envelope protein during natural infection,” said Dr. Wayne Koff, Senior Vice President of Research and Development at IAVI. “Although IAVI has invested in solving the neutralizing antibody problem since 2002, we have not to date tried this approach.”
IAVI’s Innovation Fund is a new seed capital fund designed to bring novel, early-stage technologies to the field of AIDS vaccine research. To help diversify the existing AIDS vaccine pipeline, IAVI created the Innovation Fund to develop new partnerships and draw from new disciplines – including cancer immunology, monoclonal antibody engineering and drug development – to advance AIDS vaccine research. With an initial commitment of U.S. $10 million to the fund, half of which will be financed by a U.S. $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IAVI hopes to apply technologies from leading biotechnology companies to help overcome some of the technical and scientific barriers currently facing researchers, which in turn could ultimately lead to the development of more promising candidates for human testing. This grant represents the sixth award made by IAVI through the Innovation Fund to support research with the goal of enhancing human antibody responses to AIDS.
The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) is a global not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines for use throughout the world. Founded in 1996 and operational in 24 countries, IAVI and its network of collaborators research and develop vaccine candidates. IAVI's financial and in-kind supporters include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, The John D. Evans Foundation, The New York Community Trust, the James B. Pendleton Charitable Trust, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Starr Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Governments of Canada, Denmark, India, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Basque Autonomous Government as well as the European Union; multilateral organizations such as The World Bank; corporate donors including BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.), Bristol-Myers Squibb, Continental Airlines, Google Inc., Henry Schein, Inc., Merck & Co., Inc., Pfizer Inc and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.; leading AIDS charities such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Until There's A Cure Foundation; other private donors such as The Haas Trusts; and many generous individuals from around the world. For more information, see www.iavi.org.
About Elevation Biotech
Elevation Biotech (Pty) Ltd. is an HIV therapy and vaccine discovery research company founded in 2006 on technology initially discovered by the University of the Witwatersrand and the South African National Health Laboratory Service. The first round investment in Elevation was made by LIFElab, a trust established by the South African government’s Department of Science and Technology. Elevation has developed a core technology that allows specific, high affinity attachment of peptides, proteins and other molecules to a structurally conserved region of HIV envelope proteins. Elevation’s technology has application in a number of area’s including antiretroviral drug therapy, HIV therapeutic and preventative vaccines and HIV diagnostics.