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THSTI & IAVI Announce New HIV Vaccine Design Program in India

March 03, 2011

NEW DELHI, March 3, 2011—The Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) announced today an agreement to jointly establish, operate and fund an HIV Vaccine Design Programme in India. The program will include the establishment of a new laboratory on the campus of THSTI in the National Capital Region of New Delhi. The program will primarily focus on one of the greatest scientific challenges of AIDS vaccine design and development: the elicitation of antibodies capable of neutralizing a broad spectrum of circulating HIV variants, a problem that stems in large part from the almost unparalleled mutability of HIV.

“With 7,100 people newly infected with HIV every day, effective tools to prevent infection are indispensible to the fight against HIV and AIDS,” said M.K. Bhan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology. “India alone has 2.7 million HIV-positive people within its borders. A broadly effective AIDS vaccine would be a powerful asset to efforts to arrest the spread of HIV. The Department of Biotechnology believes that it is only through partnerships like the one we have forged, involving international collaborations and the open sharing of scientific knowledge, that we will boost translational research and solve the complex global biomedical problems of our times.”

The HIV Vaccine Design Programme will capitalize on recent research advances that have sparked a renaissance in AIDS vaccine R&D. In September 2009, scientists at IAVI and their colleagues in the Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC), which is run by IAVI, reported the isolation of a pair of potent and very broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. That discovery, the first of its kind in a decade, was followed by the isolation of other broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) by researchers at the Vaccine Research Center of the US National Institutes of Health and of still more by the IAVI-affiliated team. The most promising of these antibodies are now being scrutinized by researchers to elucidate the specific mechanisms by which they bind to and neutralize HIV. The idea is to create artificially synthesized mimics of their targets on HIV, to be used in vaccines to elicit similarly potent bNAbs and teach the immune system how to thwart HIV infection.

The IAVI-THSTI collaborative program will participate in a coordinated, global effort to create replicas of bNAb targets in the laboratory for use as immunogens, which are the active ingredients of vaccines. This program will be charged with the complex task of developing, testing and then implementing strategies to rapidly screen large numbers of bNAb-based immunogens against HIV-1 and to prioritize them for further evaluation in preclinical studies. The Department of Biotechnology, THSTI and IAVI expect that the program using high-throughput (HT) screening will ultimately lead to strategies for next generation immunogen design and expand the number of AIDS vaccine candidates available for assessment in human trials.

“We are very excited about the launch of this collaboration,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of IAVI. “We are grateful for the unequivocal support this partnership has received from the Indian government and are confident it will contribute to ongoing efforts in India and elsewhere to design a broadly effective AIDS vaccine. India has an exceptional reserve of top-notch researchers, some of whom are already working closely with IAVI.”

Said Dr. Bhan, “The Government of India is convinced that this partnership has collateral benefits for the nation that go beyond advancing the development of broadly effective AIDS vaccines. Most significantly, the Department of Biotechnology expects that it will contribute to India’s efforts to become a world leader in translational research—the science of converting promising laboratory concepts into biomedical products that can be tested in people and, ultimately, manufactured by industry.”

The THSTI-IAVI program will be an integral part of the THSTI cluster of research centers. It will be linked closely to both the hub of the NAC, the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and to IAVI’s AIDS Vaccine Design and Development Laboratory in New York. The work conducted will also complement a current partnership IAVI has with the Indian Medicinal Chemistry Program (IMCP), under the auspices of the Department of Biotechnology, to design and generate conceptually novel HIV immunogens. Other institutions participating in this partnership include the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

About THSTI
The Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) is an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, and is a part of the interdisciplinary Health Biotech Science cluster, located in the National Capital Region. THSTI seeks to create a unique institutional environment for the conduct of truly multidisciplinary research that translates scientific and technological advancements into medical innovations that will improve human health. The institute is mentored by the globally recognized National Institute of Immunology (NII) and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology (HM-HST). The other members of the cluster include the Regional Center for Biotechnology (RCB) under the aegis of UNESCO and the NII with which THSTI will collaborate seamlessly in its interdisciplinary approach to solving scientific problems. The cluster institutions will have access to a state-of-the-art experimental animal facility and the platform technology center for sophisticated instrumentation.

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 25 countries, IAVI and its network of collaborators research and develop vaccine candidates. IAVI was founded with the generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Starr Foundation, and Until There's A Cure Foundation. Other major supporters include 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 Governments of Canada, Denmark, India, Ireland, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Basque Autonomous Government (Spain), the European Union as well as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and The City of New York, Economic Development Corporation; multilateral organizations such as The World Bank and The OPEC Fund for International Development; corporate donors including BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.), Bristol-Myers Squibb, Continental Airlines, The Gilead Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, Google Inc., Pfizer Inc, and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.; leading AIDS charities such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; and many generous individuals from around the world. For more information, see www.iavi.org.

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For further information:

Department of Biotechnology
Dr. M K Bhan Secretary Department of Biotechnology
Tel: 2436 2950, 2436 2881

Dr. Dinakar M. Salunke
Executive Director, Regional Centre for Biotechnology and Senior Scientist, National Institute of Immunology
Tel: 0124-4038116; 011-26717113

Dr. Sudhanshu Vrati
Dean, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute and Senior Scientist, National Institute of Immunology
Tel: 011-26703696

International AIDS Vaccine Initiative
Dr. Rajat Goyal Director, Country and Regional Programmes International AIDS Vaccine Initiative
Tel: 47376000

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