NEW YORK – July 1, 2019 – The University of Oslo (UiO), IAVI, and the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) today announced an award from the Research Council of Norway through the GLOBVAC (Global Health Vaccination and Research) program for the development of broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) as HIV prevention products. Teams on three continents will work to engineer and optimize antibodies to extend their half-life, an improvement designed to increase the duration of antibody activity and potentially lead to longer intervals between protective doses. The consortium led by UiO received a research grant of 19.09M Norwegian kroner (about U.S. $2.2M) for a period of three years.
The use of bNAbs is seen as a promising low-cost HIV prevention approach for people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). In particular, this prevention method may be especially suitable for use by adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in LMICs. In sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of new HIV infections occur in AGYW, and in India, female sex workers (FSW) are a key population at risk of HIV infection. Existing HIV prevention methods, such as daily HIV prevention pills or condoms, can be stigmatizing or difficult for AGYW and FSW to negotiate in sexual encounters. Infection-blocking antibodies have several advantages: they can be given discreetly via subcutaneous injection and at the same medical visit as injections of long-acting contraceptives, a widely used method of birth control among AGYW in under-resourced settings.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for women and girls to have universal access to sexual and reproductive health. Ensuring that they have affordable, accessible HIV prevention tools that meet their needs and preferences will contribute to achieving this goal.
The antibodies being developed in this project come from IAVI’s groundbreaking Protocol G, a cross-sectional study of about 2,000 HIV-infected participants from all over the world. Antibodies that can broadly neutralize many strains of HIV in laboratory tests have been identified in Protocol G donors from Africa. Scientists at IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center (NAC) at Scripps Research have engineered some of these antibodies for increased potency, and several antibodies are being investigated in clinical trials for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDs. In this project, researchers at UiO will extend the half-life of antibodies already enhanced by NAC researchers. HIV antibodies typically offer protection for about two to four weeks, but with half-life modifications, duration can be prolonged for up to six months.
NAC researchers will transfer antibody technology and provide scientific support to THSTI in Faridabad, India. At THSTI, scientists will also isolate and characterize new bNAbs from samples from Indian participants in Protocol G. Lead antibodies will then be engineered for extended half-life by UiO before being transferred back to THSTI for evaluation in non-human primate models. If animal tests of the bNAbs for safety and efficacy are promising, the antibodies may be evaluated in clinical trials in humans. Gagandeep Kang, M.D., Ph.D., executive director of THSTI, said, “This collaboration, supported by GLOBVAC, will not only help THSTI develop and diffuse affordable technology in improving bNAb half-life, breadth, and potency, but will also provide an avenue to promote application of these technologies to other disease indications that are of also public health importance to India and to the most neglected people and diseases globally.”
Antibodies that last longer and are more potent will likely be given in smaller doses and at longer intervals – factors that could drive down manufacturing and delivery costs and make them more accessible and affordable. Reducing expenses improves the likelihood that bNAbs for prophylaxis will be affordable for global access, particularly for AGYW in LMICs.
Jan Terje Andersen, Ph.D., Head of the Laboratory of Adaptive Immunity and Homeostasis at Oslo University Hospital and UiO, said, “We look forward to joining forces with IAVI and THSTI in India to develop HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies as a prevention product for global access through our half-life extension technology. By bridging highly complementary expertise, we hope that we can make a difference for those who need HIV prevention products the most.”
Devin Sok, Ph.D., IAVI’s Director of Antibody Discovery and Development, said, “We know that having different prevention options for young women in low- and middle-income countries is important, so the availability of a product that provides long-term protection, is well tolerated, and could potentially be used discreetly will be a major addition to the suite of different prevention options.”
Research at the NAC that contributed to the antibody discovery and optimization work as well as the database of Protocol G samples was made possible by the generous support of IAVI’s donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Governments of Denmark (through Danida), Ireland (through Irish Aid), The Netherlands (through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Norway (through Norad), the United Kingdom (through DFID), and through the generous support of the American people from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among others. Norad provided core funding to IAVI between 2002 and 2015, which contributed to the discovery and development of bNAbs and helped strengthen scientific capacity and leadership in HIV clinical research in sub-Saharan Africa. This GLOBVAC project featuring North-South high-tech scientific collaboration was enabled by this investment.
Read more about Norwegian government support at our Donor Spotlight.
About Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo
Founded in 1814, the Faculty of Medicine at UiO is the oldest medical faculty in Norway. The Faculty's core activities are research, education, and dissemination for the best of patients and society. The teaching and research at the Faculty ranges from basic biomedical subjects, via clinical subjects, to health subjects, and has a prominent international profile. The Faculty attaches importance to dissemination and innovation activities.
About Translational Health Science and Technology Institute
Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) is an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, with the mission to conduct innovative translational research to accelerate the development of concepts into tangible products and provide affordable technologies and solutions that address global healthcare challenges.
About the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at Scripps Research
The IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center (NAC) is headquartered at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California. Together, Scripps and IAVI employ experts in computational immunogen design, structural biology, virology, immunology, and antibody discovery.