May 18, 2017

Canadian Researcher Wins Grant to Explore Promising HIV Vaccine Candidate

Canadian Institutes of Health Research funds Gary Kobinger to develop HIV vaccine in partnership with IAVI.

Gary Kobinger, Université LavalThe Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has awarded a new CA$3.99 million grant to Dr. Gary Kobinger of Université Laval for work on a vaccine to prevent HIV infection.

This three-year grant supports a scientific collaboration between Kobinger and the Design and Development Lab, a state-of-the-art research facility in Brooklyn, New York, operated by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). Led by Kobinger and IAVI’s Dr. Chris Parks, the respective Canadian and U.S. research teams aim to improve upon a promising HIV vaccine candidate designed by Parks, with the goal of advancing the candidate to clinical testing in human volunteers.

“We are encouraged by this support of Gary Kobinger’s work and the prospects of his collaboration with IAVI’s Design and Development Lab,” said Mark Feinberg, IAVI CEO. “The innovative work of the Kobinger lab provides a great illustration of how creative and insightful science can advance the global response to emerging infectious diseases, and exemplifies ways in which the benefits of research progress in one disease area can be translated to another, in this case, from an understanding of how to develop an effective Ebola vaccine to the ongoing search for an AIDS vaccine.”

Using a modified animal virus called Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) that does not cause disease in humans, the IAVI vaccine candidate delivers copies of a protein taken from HIV’s surface. Once inside the body, the protein stimulates protective immune defenses against HIV infection. Studies in animals to date have yielded encouraging results.

Kobinger’s team will further modify the IAVI candidate vaccine for greater efficacy and clinical testing. An expert in the Ebola virus, Kobinger helped develop the Ebola (rVSV-ZEBOV) vaccine, which to date has proven the most effective at preventing Ebola infection, and which also uses a VSV backbone.

“While there is still much work to be done, progress is being made towards finding a vaccine that will protect and eventually eliminate HIV/AIDS, one of the most serious health threats of our time,” said Marc Ouellette, Scientific Director, Institute of Infection and Immunity, CIHR.

In 2016, more than 2 million people were newly infected with HIV around the world. Though antiretroviral treatment has prolonged life for millions, scientists concur that discovering a vaccine against HIV is the only way to end the AIDS epidemic. By combining their expertise, CIHR and IAVI hope to advance the field of HIV vaccine discovery and to build a more efficient vaccine-development model that can potentially be replicated in other disease areas.

Gary Kobinger is world-renowned for his work on the Ebola vaccine and treatment of those affected by the disease. More recently, while Chief of Special Pathogens with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s microbiology laboratory in Winnipeg, Kobinger garnered international attention for his efforts to develop a treatment and vaccine against the Zika virus.