Consortium Led By the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Grant $23.4 Million to HIV/AIDS Vaccine Research

by Dr Sam Girgis on May 6, 2011

Our current state of medical knowledge allows individuals infected with the HIV virus to live much longer and healthier lives.  They often can live free of the opportunistic infections and cancers that are characteristically found in patients with full blown AIDS.  In fact, individuals infected with HIV often die of diseases that the general population die from including heart disease, stroke, and non- HIV related cancers.  This is because we have been able to develop medications, such as anti-retroviral agents and protease inhibitors, which make the virus undetectable in the human body.  The development of a vaccine, which could prevent the disease altogether, has been much more difficult and elusive for medical scientists.  This is due to the fact that the proteins which are involved in the outer coat of the virus continuously mutate and change.  Researchers at the Institute of Human Virology (IHV) in the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine have made some promising advances toward developing a vaccine.  The IHV is headed by Dr. Robert Gallo, who is famous for his discovery of several retroviruses that cause leukemia, as well as co-discovery of the HIV virus, and development of a test for the HIV.  Dr. Robert Gallo and his research team will be receiving a $23.4 million grant from a consortium led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to further study an investigational vaccine which is currently in the preclinical phase.  The grant monies include $16.8 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $2.2 million from the U.S. Army’s Military HIV Research Program, as well as grant funding from the National Institutes of Health.  The IHV vaccine is very promising because it uses a unique mechanism to target the HIV virus.  Previous vaccines have targeted the outer coat envelope proteins of HIV which have a high rate of mutation, thus causing the vaccine to be ineffective.  The IHV vaccine, termed Full Length Single Chain (FLSC), is designed to target a HIV-1 protein which is only exposed when the virus attaches to a cell that it is infecting.  The target protein is much less likely to mutate and thus could potentially be a better target in the development of the vaccine.  Profectus Biosciences, an IHV spinoff company, will continue to conduct the pre-clinical research of the vaccine.  The clinical portion of the research, which will include phase 1 and phase 2 trials using human subjects, will be conducted by the IHV, the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, and Sanofi Pasteur, a branch of Sanofi Aventis that specializes in the development of vaccines.  This is an exciting time in the field of HIV research and hopefully the new funding will allow us to ultimately develop a highly potent vaccine against the HIV virus.  Who knows… maybe this research will lead to the ultimate eradication of the HIV virus so that we can classify it in the textbooks alongside the small pox virus.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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