February 28, 2014

International Symposium On Accelerating India’s Response to Research for a Preventive HIV Vaccine

New Delhi, August 13, 2012—Former President of India, the Honourable Dr APJ Abdul Kalam inaugurated the International Symposium, “Accelerating India’s Response to Research for a Preventive HIV Vaccine”, devoted exclusively to HIV vaccine design and development, held today at the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) Convention Centre.

The two-day symposium has been organized by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), Government of India (GOI); in partnership with the Department of AIDS Control (DAC) and the Department of Health Research (DHR), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India (GOI); the Forum of Parliamentarians on HIV/AIDS (FPA); the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI); the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB) and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

Senior leaders of the Executive arm of the Parliament of the Government of India endorsed the Government of India’s efforts to help advance recent scientific advances in the field of AIDS vaccine design and development. These included Shri Vayalar Ravi Honourable Minister Honorable Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Science and Technology, Earth sciences and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Shri. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Honourable Minister of Health and Family Welfare; Shri Kapil Sibal, Honourable Minister of Human Resource Development and Communications & Information Technology; Shri Ashwini Kumar, Honourable Minister of State, Planning Commission, Ministry of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences; Shri Oscar Fernandes, Honourable Member of Parliament & Chairman-FPA; and Shri JD  Seelam, Honourable Member of Parliament.

Researchers, scholars and stakeholders from around the world also attended the symposium, including Prof. MK Bhan, Secretary, DBT, MoST, Government of India; Dr VM Katoch, Secretary, DHR and Director General, ICMR, MoHFW, Government of India; Shri Sayan Chatterjee, Secretary, DAC and Director General, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), MoHFW, Government of India; Ms. Aradhana Johri, Additional Secretary, DAC; and Ms. Margaret McGlynn, President & CEO, IAVI.

The symposium could not be better timed. Due in part to its Decade of Innovation: 2010-20, India is beginning to attract global R&D activities in upstream research. The government, meanwhile, has stressed scientific research and international collaboration in both its globalization strategy and its plans to take a more active role in addressing domestic and international public health challenges. Speakers highlighted India’s emergence in the area of science, technology and innovation. The nation is, increasingly, an innovator in the biomedical sciences. Its scientists are working with a growing roster of research organizations and companies worldwide to develop solutions for global health problems.

HIV is certainly one of them. It remains one of the most challenging viral pathogens known to humanity, and has exacted a significant toll in India, which has the third-highest number of people infected by the virus. Solutions to the epidemic are a significant public health priority of governments around the world. The GOI has taken several initiatives over the years to reinforce the national response to the global fight against HIV/AIDS through departments of the MoHFW, such as the DAC and the DHR, and departments of the MoST, such as the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the DBT. These efforts have led to the evolution of HIV control programmes in India from simply monitoring infection rates among high risk populations to increased targeted interventions, aiming to halt and reverse the epidemic.

As part of that program, the GOI has reached beyond traditional prevention and treatment programs and has begun to stress research on HIV vaccines and other new prevention tools as a priority. To date, the MoHFW has facilitated the conduct of three-Phase I HIV vaccine clinical trials in India, which have helped build capacity including education, advocacy and training for further vaccine development in the country. Ongoing efforts are expected to not only boost attempts to develop novel biomedical tools for HIV prevention, but also help advance other R&D initiatives in the country. Additionally, the Indian Council Medical Research (ICMR) and the DBT have also begun a joint funding initiative to accelerate HIV prevention research, including vaccines and microbicides. The effort relies on a shared scientific and strategic plan and promotes in-country research collaboration.

The MoST has initiated programmes like the bilateral Indo-South Africa HIV vaccine research collaborative programme under the auspices of DST and the Indian Medicinal Chemistry Program, an initiative of the DBT and IAVI, which links top institutes of India and the West to tackle the challenge of developing a successful HIV vaccine together. The ministry continues to fund several other initiatives, including the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB)-Emory Vaccine Centre and, more recently, an HIV Vaccine Design Programme jointly established by THSTI and IAVI to help identify candidate immunogens for novel HIV vaccines.

Senior leaders of India’s Executive arm of Parliament acknowledged the launch of the HIV Vaccine Translational Research Laboratory established by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India, in partnership with THSTI and IAVI. The Laboratory aims to generate large numbers of immunogens and rapidly assess their potential for use in HIV vaccines devised to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies following immunization. The Laboratory will operate within the HIV Vaccine Design Programme and will be coordinated with IAVI and its global network of partners through the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Consortium, the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Research Center at The Scripps Research Institute in California and the AIDS Vaccine Design and Development Laboratory in New York. The Laboratory reflects an alignment of interests between partners, allowing THSTI and IAVI to achieve objectives central to both their missions.

Devoted exclusively to HIV vaccine R&D, the symposium facilitated crucial engagements between Indian ministerial leaders and researchers from around the world, civil society leaders and key opinion makers, highlighting the need for global R&D collaboration and an environment for sustained, well-funded, innovative research to capitalize on new scientific insights generated in India. Attendees also discussed the need to empower communities for HIV prevention through consensus-building.  It is expected that these deliberations, taken together, will help define short- and long-term scientific priorities for the HIV vaccine programmes in India, facilitate opportunities for multidisciplinary partnerships between researchers around the world and help to maximize efficiency in the use of resources through collaboration. Participants at the symposium representing a variety of areas in basic and translational research discussed recent advances in vaccine science and technologies, specifically how to move forward these new discoveries, and identified unique approaches for collaboration.

Key speakers at the symposium include Prof. N K Ganguly, former Director General, ICMR; Sir Andrew J. McMichael, Director, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, United Kingdom; Prof. Rafi Ahmad, Emory Vaccine Center, Emory University, USA; Prof. Stephen Kent, Principal Research Fellow, Microbiology and Immunology Department, University of Melbourne, Australia; Dr Wayne Koff, Chief Scientific Officer & Senior Vice President, IAVI; Dr. Rick King, Vice President, Vaccine Design, IAVI; Prof. NK Mehra (AIIMS, New Delhi); Dr. Shahid Jameel (ICGEB, New Delhi);  Prof. R. Varadarajan (IISc, Bangalore); and Dr. Bimal Chakrabarti (HIV Vaccine Translational Research Laboratory). Discussions among HIV vaccine researchers–from both public and private sector institutions in India and other countries–policymakers and key opinion leaders explored future HIV vaccine design efforts and how platform technologies developed for that purpose might be applied to other infectious diseases.

Sessions at the symposium included:

  • Virology and Immunology of HIV Infection: focus on early host responses to HIV infection, understanding HIV transmission utilizing transmitted / founder viruses, immune mechanisms in a natural host- pathogen system, viral antigen processing etc.
  • Immunogen Design, B-cell immunology and Protective Antibody Responses: focus on structural and conformational analysis of broadly neutralizing anti HIV-antibodies, discovery of novel monoclonals, immunogen design to elicit broad and robust immune responses, cross- reactive humoral immunity & induction of broadly neutralizing antibodies and role of non-neutralizing antibodies.
  • T-cell Immunity and immune escape: focus on designing of novel vectors and inserts, regulation of T-cell function, TCR Activation and CD8+ T Cell Recognition escape mutants with enhanced potential to counter HIV diversity.
  • Vaccine Development: focus on the areas of product development like adjuvants, delivery systems, novel assays, animal models, clinical epidemiology and clinical research.

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, IAVI works with partners in 25 countries to research, design and develop AIDS vaccine candidates. In addition, IAVI conducts policy analyses and serves as an advocate for the AIDS vaccine field. IAVI supports a comprehensive approach to addressing HIV and AIDS that balances the expansion and strengthening of existing HIV-prevention and treatment programs with targeted investments in the design and development of new tools to prevent HIV. IAVI is dedicated to ensuring that a future AIDS vaccine will be available and accessible to all who need it. IAVI relies on the generous donations from governments, private individuals, corporations and foundations to carry out its mission. For more information, see www.iavi.org

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 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 other members of the cluster include the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB) under the aegis of UNESCO and the National Institute of Immunology (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 centre for sophisticated instrumentation. For more information, see http://www.thsti.res.in