IAVI and Algonomics to collaborate on HIV protein design project

9 February 2009

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Belgian biotechnology company Algonomics have announced a collaboration to modify an HIV protein in order to improve immune responses elicited by HIV vaccine candidates that include the protein as an insert.

The project utilizes a proprietary antigen design technology developed by Algonomics and will be funded by IAVI’s Innovation Fund, a funding mechanism that seeks out novel and typically high-risk technologies that could provide breakthroughs in the design and development of novel AIDS vaccine candidates.

To develop vaccine candidates capable of controlling HIV infection, experts are searching for ways to improve upon the immune responses that have been elicited in candidates tested to date.

In its natural state, the HIV Gag protein has not generated immune responses that are sufficient to keep HIV in check in the body. Experts hope that by modifying the protein in a rational way, they can provoke the immune system to develop stronger and more effective responses.

Under the agreement, Algonomics and IAVI will collaborate to alter epitopes in the HIV gag protein to broaden immune responses and direct them towards conserved regions of the protein. The project utilizes Epibase, a tool to identify T-cell epitopes, those parts of the HIV Gag protein that generates T-cell responses. The newly designed protein will be tested for its ability to generate broader T-cell responses. Algonomics will perform in vitro testing of immune responses using its Epibase-IV technology.

“We are delighted to collaborate with Algonomics to apply their protein design technology to help improve T-cell responses against HIV,” said Dr Hansi Dean, IAVI’s Director of New Alliances. “Rational modification of the HIV inserts in vaccines designed to elicit cellular immune responses that can control HIV infection is a critical component of IAVI’s vaccine design program.”

Philippe Stas, CEO of Algonomics, adds: “Entering this collaboration with IAVI’s world-class research teams further expands our commitment to biotherapeutics design. Contributing to the development of a novel type of vaccine to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS is a strong motivator for our scientists.”

A vaccine that protects against HIV infection will most likely need to stimulate both arms of the immune system, generating both neutralizing antibodies and cell-mediated immunity (CMI). Despite significant efforts to develop an effective AIDS vaccine based on CMI, no candidate to date has been able to generate an effective and robust T-cell response that reduces viral load or protects against HIV infection.

Further improvements in CMI approaches are urgently needed, and emerging data suggest that immune responses that comprise a broader range of epitopes result in lower viral load. The redesign of the HIV gag protein is expected to result in a broader immune response against the protein. If this project succeeds, additional HIV proteins used in HIV vaccine candidates will be considered for modification to further optimize immune responses.

The project is funded through IAVI’s Innovation Fund. Targeted primarily to small- and medium-sized biotechnology companies, the fund proactively seeks out and finances nascent technologies that could help solve some of the main technical and scientific hurdles facing AIDS vaccine science and ultimately lead to the development of novel candidates.

The fund has an initial three-year commitment of US$10 million, half of which will be financed by a US$5 million grant to IAVI from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Innovation Fund is the latest addition to IAVI’s extensive research and development infrastructure, which includes a network of labs worldwide, three consortia comprised of leading AIDS researchers and a network of state-of-the-art clinical research centers and supporting programs.

Since its founding in 1996, IAVI has introduced a series of pioneering approaches to AIDS vaccine R&D, which has already resulted in the design of six novel vaccine candidates that have entered human trials in 11 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America.

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 and operational in 24 countries, IAVI and its network of collaborators research and develop vaccine candidates.

IAVI's financial and in-kind supporters include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, The John D. Evans Foundation, The New York Community Trust, the James B. Pendleton Charitable Trust, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Starr Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Governments of Canada, Denmark, India, Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the Basque Autonomous Government as well as the European Union; multilateral organizations such as The World Bank; corporate donors including BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.), Bristol-Myers Squibb, Continental Airlines, Google Inc., Henry Schein, Inc., Merck & Co., Inc., Pfizer Inc and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.; leading AIDS charities such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Until There's A Cure Foundation; other private donors such as The Haas Trusts; and many generous individuals from around the world. For more information, visit www.iavi.org

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