VISTA, Vaccine Immunology Science and Technology for Africa
Design and assess the next generation of AIDS vaccine candidates for Africa, with Africa, and make unique and complementary contributions to the broader field of AIDS vaccine research and development.
VISTA is a new initiative to strengthen and expand an international consortium of investigators in order to address gaps in HIV vaccine design. VISTA will extend knowledge using existing and new samples from unique cohorts of people across Africa. The partners are driven by shared research interests, their common desire to address important scientific needs, and their commitment to strengthening sustainable capacity and technical capability in early-stage research in eastern and southern Africa. The goal is to ensure that African scientists increasingly contribute to and take leadership in AIDS vaccine design and development.
At its inception, VISTA is building on over a decade of partnership and includes eight Clinical Research Centers in eastern and southern Africa; and the international collaborations and central support hubs with Emory University, Atlanta, USA (virology) and IAVI’s Human Immunology Laboratory at Imperial College London (immunology, and data and sample management). New partnerships have been developed with the Delhi-based HIV Vaccine Translational Research Laboratory, a collaboration between IAVI and the Indian Government. VISTA compliments and synergizes the efforts of IAVI's Neutralizing Antibody Consortium at the Scripps Research Institute and the IAVI Design & Development Laboratory. VISTA is open to the inclusion of other partners and aims to catalyze translational HIV vaccine research in East and Southern Africa.
Advance Immunogen Design and Testing
VISTA aims to:
- Further characterize how the immune system can control HIV across its diverse clades and the populations it affects the most
- Help gain a deeper comprehension of the nature of the transmitted virus when one person infects another
- Identify T cell specificities associated with broad and potent control of HIV infection in existing blood samples, and also in a newly developed laboratory test to analyze viral inhibition
Using these results, researchers will:
- Identify critical sites of vulnerability on the virus
- Fully assess the immune responses associated with these T cell specificities and vulnerable sites in volunteers who control HIV persistently
- Help guide the design and assessment of next-generation immunogens to elicit broad and potent T cell responses against HIV through vaccination
- Develop next-generation assays to better assess HIV vaccines in clinical trials
The development of new, more effective assays and relevant reagents will allow better understanding and characterization of both viral characteristics and immune responses, both of which are important for vaccine design. VISTA will develop assays to assess T cell responses, molecular characterization of HIV, and assess immune signatures for vaccine design studies and vaccine trials. VISTA will also include assay development to support a new type of experimental clinical trials of new immunogens to elicit both broad T cell responses and broadly neutralizing antibodies. As part of VISTA, African clinical research centers will perform exploratory clinical studies of immunogens to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies.
Strengthen Sustainable Capacity: Centers of Excellence, Training and Data Sharing
VISTA’s transfer and training program across the entire discovery and development pathway will strengthen existing capacity and capabilities in epidemiological research and clinical development and will build new capacity and capabilities in earlier stages such as virology, immunology and immunogen design.
VISTA will foster the development of centers of excellence across Clinical Research Centers in eastern and southern Africa, enhancing individual centers' expertise and capabilities in areas such as: functional viral inhibition assays using panels of diverse and well-characterized viruses from collaboration; mucosal sampling; epitope mapping; and viral gene sequencing.
VISTA will work with Indian partners to include participation of centers of excellence in India, thus enhancing South-South collaboration. The testing of immunogens to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies will focus on immunogens developed in collaboration with Indian research institutions. Samples, reagents and capabilities will be shared across the consortium. Data and results will be shared openly between partners, and will be stored in a dedicated, common data warehouse. IAVI’s Human Immunology Laboratory at Imperial College London, along with Emory University will provide mentorship, training, core and data support, as well as develop and transfer reagents, assays and technology for immunology and molecular virology.
The program will also ensure that additional capacity is sustained and that next-generation African researchers and investigators are developed, engaged and empowered to participate in and eventually lead the development of an AIDS vaccine for Africa. In addition, VISTA will:
- Fund new research positions at African sites
- Encourage African postdoctoral scientists who have studied abroad to return to work in African research institutions
- Provide training opportunities for African PhDs and postdoctoral fellows
- Support development of competitive research proposals by African investigators for both domestic and international funding
Leveraging More Than A Decade Of Experience And Unique Samples
VISTA leverages more than a decade of close collaboration between IAVI and a network of eight African research partners, as well as the IAVI Human Immunology Lab at Imperial College London, Emory University and Indian research institutions (including the HIV Vaccine Translational Research Laboratory). Through training, equipment and technology transfer, IAVI and partners have helped build and strengthen capacity and technical capabilities for epidemiological research and clinical development in eastern and southern Africa. VISTA draws upon the capabilities and assets of the network including samples and new data from acute HIV infection cohorts, vaccine trial samples and novel technology platforms.
VISTA will leverage samples from unique, increasingly rare cohorts of people in different stages or with various kinds of HIV infection, including people with acute infection or super infection (re-infection with one or more virus strains), long-term non-progressors and elite controllers (people who spontaneously control the virus in the absence of therapy). These cohorts span multiple HIV clades and groups of people, and provide a powerful resource for guiding multi-functional vaccine design and assessment. A key component is a collection of samples and data from Protocol C, a well characterized early HIV infection cohort of more than 600 volunteers (including volunteer with acute infection) with more than 5 years median follow-up. Protocol C data drive immunogen design through understanding the nature of the transmitted virus and resolution of acute infection. VISTA will also establish new cohorts to collect samples in the very early stages of infection with HIV and to examine these samples with new technologies.
The Clinical Research Centers in Africa have well-established accredited laboratories that have supported 15 phase I and II clinical trials of 26 AIDS vaccine candidates as well as numerous epidemiological studies. Through these programs accredited quality controlled laboratories, and access to unique and diverse cohorts and samples have been developed. Each center has full safety diagnostic laboratory capability, well equipped cellular and serology laboratories and bio-banking capabilities. The teams at Emory University and IAVI’s Human Immunology Laboratory at Imperial College London have and will continue to develop a series of technical platforms including high throughput full viral genome sequencing, viral replicative capacity assays and functional assays such as the CD8 T cell viral inhibition assay. IAVI further contributes experience and capabilities in advancing promising vaccine candidates into clinical development.
Funding The work on Protocol C and G has been funded by an international consortium of development agencies including the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that also funds VISTA. The complete list of IAVI's donors can be found here.