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The Scripps Research Institute and IAVI Launch Research Center

September 24, 2009

LA JOLLA, CA and NEW YORK, NY September 24, 2009 – Today, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and The Scripps Research Institute officially launched a new research center, the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at The Scripps Research Institute.  Scientists at the Neutralizing Antibody Center will focus on designing AIDS vaccines that elicit antibodies that work against a sufficient number of HIV types to protect from infection with the virus. 

The launch comes in the wake of a new advance in this arena published in Science earlier this month by researchers at IAVI and Scripps Research, among others. The scientists discovered two broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV that reveal a previously unknown site on the virus that could prove to be a good target for vaccine design. To advance this finding, researchers are now working to develop immunogens, the active ingredient in vaccines, based on this region of HIV, in the hope of prompting the immune system to produce powerful antibodies that would protect from HIV infection. The Neutralizing Antibody Center will be central to these efforts. The Center houses a powerful, high-speed robot that researchers are using to determine the complex molecular structure of the new antibodies and how they bind to their target on HIV.

At a symposium of distinguished scientists held today on the campus of Scripps Research to mark the launch of the Center, these findings will be discussed together with other recent scientific advances in the quest to develop an AIDS vaccine.

Among the internationally recognized researchers working to establish the foundation for development of an HIV vaccine who will be facilitating discussions at the conference are:

Dr. Argyrios Theofilopoulos, professor of immunology and chairman of the department of immunology and microbial science at The Scripps Research Institute 
Dr. Douglas Richman, professor of pathology and medicine at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.  He is also director of the UCSD AIDS Research Institute and director of the Research Center for AIDS and HIV Infection at the Veterans Administration San Diego Healthcare System 
Dr. Gary Nabel, director of the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health  
Dr. Rick King, vice president of vaccine discovery at IAVI

The two newly discovered neutralizing antibodies to HIV are the most potent to be identified while also maintaining strong breadth of neutralization. They are the first to have been discovered in more than a decade and the first to have come from donors in developing countries, where the majority of new HIV infections occur. The identification of the antibodies and the site they target on HIV was made possible through a collaboration, orchestrated by IAVI, among researchers at IAVI, Scripps Research, the biotechnology companies Theraclone Sciences and Monogram Biosciences, and a group of clinical research centers in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Thailand and Africa.

“These new antibodies and the site they target on HIV open new avenues to exploit for HIV vaccine design,” said Dennis Burton, professor of immunology and microbial science and scientific director of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at The Scripps Research Institute. “We expect to identify additional antibodies and novel targets on HIV in the near future, so we are gearing up for a large-scale immunogen design effort. The aim is to design vaccine candidates that prompt the immune system to produce similar neutralizing antibodies. This new Center is designed to optimize the chances of succeeding at that.”

The concept of the Center is to bring together a critical mass of structural biologists, virologists, chemists, immunologists and computational biologists to work side-by-side to tease out how to generate broad protection from HIV infection, and to connect those scientists to a network of research institutions in Africa, Asia, Europe and the U.S. “The Center will bring together under one roof scientists from multiple disciplines to focus on the design of immunogens aimed at blocking infection with HIV, and it will collaborate extensively with academic, government and industry scientists from across the globe,”  said Wayne Koff, senior vice president of research and development at IAVI. “HIV is such a difficult foe that it’s hard to imagine a single group working alone to create a vaccine to defeat it. By putting a lot of heads together, and bringing in fresh thinking, we hope to greatly improve the odds of success.”

“The Center’s team has already made great progress with the identification of the two new neutralizing antibodies,” said Scripps Research President Richard A. Lerner. “This discovery lays the foundation for much work to come. And with a goal as complex as an HIV vaccine, it can only be accomplished through collaboration.”

The Neutralizing Antibody Center represents the latest expansion of the Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC), created by IAVI seven years ago to address a neglected area of AIDS vaccine research and development. Its purpose was to focus attention on the potential of neutralizing antibodies at a time when AIDS vaccine candidates in preclinical and clinical testing were devised almost exclusively to elicit cell-mediated immune responses. Most existing vaccines against other diseases are believed to depend critically on eliciting neutralizing antibodies.

Current members of the Consortium include IAVI, The Scripps Research Institute, Academia Sinica, Cornell University, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Karolinska Institute, Harvard Medical School, the Indian Institute of Science, Oxford University, the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Bellinzona, Switzerland, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Delhi, India, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington, the University of Wisconsin, The Veteran’s Affairs Medical Research Center and the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Neutralizing Antibody Center and the broader NAC will collaborate closely with the rest of IAVI’s research program. For example, IAVI’s AIDS Vaccine Design and Development Laboratory in New York will rapidly translate leading concepts identified by NAC scientists into clinical candidates for human testing.

"Every day, another 7,500 individuals become newly infected with HIV. That is unacceptably high. We are hopeful that this partnership will bring us closer to developing a vaccine that will help end the AIDS pandemic," said Seth Berkley, president and CEO of IAVI.

ABOUT THE SCRIPPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE 
The Scripps Research Institute is one of the world's largest independent, non-profit biomedical research organizations, at the forefront of basic biomedical science that seeks to comprehend the most fundamental processes of life. Scripps Research is internationally recognized for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neurosciences, autoimmune, cardiovascular, and infectious diseases, and synthetic vaccine development. Established in its current configuration in 1961, it employs approximately 3,000 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, scientific and other technicians, doctoral degree graduate students, and administrative and technical support personnel. Scripps Research is headquartered in La Jolla, California. It also includes Scripps Florida, whose researchers focus on basic biomedical science, drug discovery, and technology development. Scripps Florida is located in Jupiter, Florida. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

ABOUT IAVI
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. and Pfizer 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.