February 28, 2014

IAVI Awards Latest Innovation Fund Grants

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has named Lipoxen, PLC, a leading UK-based biopharmaceutical company, and Strand Life Sciences, a premier life sciences company based in Bangalore, India, as the latest award recipients of the organization’s Innovation Fund—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 draw from new disciplines, including cancer immunology, monoclonal antibody engineering and drug development, to advance AIDS vaccine research. IAVI hopes to apply technologies from Lipoxen and Strand to help overcome some of the technical and scientific barriers currently facing the AIDS vaccine researchers, which in turn could ultimately lead to the development of more promising candidates for human testing. 

One of the field’s most enduring challenges remains stimulating the human immune system to make antibodies, infection-fighting immune proteins, which can neutralize HIV. Evidence suggests that if a vaccine is able to elicit such broadly neutralizing antibodies, it will protect humans from HIV infection. To that end, both Lipoxen and Strand, with financial support from the Innovation Fund, will conduct research with the goal of enhancing human antibody responses to AIDS vaccines.

Specifically, Lipoxen will develop close to thirty unique microscopic fat vesicles that will be used in an eventual vaccine candidate to present antigens to both arms of the human immune system. This new delivery technology has given rise to very high antibody responses in other disease models, such as influenza-A and hepatitis-E. 

Under a separate grant, IAVI has funded Strand Life Sciences to use computer modeling technology to design a series of immunogens based on one of the broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, known as 4E10, discovered to date. Work out of IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC) shows that 4E10 is a very broadly neutralizing antibody and that the area of the HIV molecule it binds to (its epitope) is highly conserved, making it a promising vaccine target. Strand proposes to use in silico design to model the interaction of 4E10 epitopes with the HIV membrane and then to construct peptides that are held in the proper shape by scaffolds that would induce broadly neutralizing antibodies that resemble 4E10.

Innovation is needed to bring a much-needed breakthrough to AIDS vaccine research and development. To date, only two AIDS vaccine candidates have completed efficacy testing, and both have failed. IAVI’s Innovation Fund is designed to help the field more systematically identify novel research ideas and apply them to help answer some of the major scientific questions facing researchers today.