Scripps, U. of Nebraska-Lincoln win $15M to advance HIV vaccines

The Scripps Research Institute has landed a $13 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to advance antibodies toward the development of an HIV vaccine. Meanwhile, another team of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has won nearly $2 million for its experimental HIV vaccine.

There's evidence that a vaccine to prevent HIV or have a therapeutic effect on those who have the immune-compromising virus is possible. But since the virus was first isolated in 1983, there have been huge barriers to engineering a vaccine against HIV, including the variable nature of the virus' structure.

Recent HIV vaccine work has focused on studying how the immune systems of a small minority of patients generate rare antibodies that trounce a wide range of strains of the deadly virus. Many researchers believe that an effective vaccine against HIV would work by eliciting antibodies to a specific conserved site on the virus called V1V2, one of a handful of sites that remain constant on the fast-mutating virus.

Richard Wyatt, a Scripps professor of immunology and director of viral immunology for the institute's International AIDS Vaccine Initiative's Neutralizing Antibody Center, is heading up the 5-year study.

"The long-term goal is to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV," said Wyatt. "This is a difficult task because of the variability of the virus."

Wyatt and his team's work will focus on generating these broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNABs) and assessing their ability to neutralize different strains of the virus. Teaming up with scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the team there will first immunize animals with viral surface proteins engineered in the Wyatt lab, then analyze this immune response at the molecular level.

In a separate effort, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have won a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop its attenuated--or weakened--HIV virus for a vaccine.

The researchers created the weakened virus by manipulating the virus' codons--a sequence of three nucleotides that form genetic code--so that it requires an unnatural amino acid for proper protein translation, which allows it to replicate. This amino acid is foreign to the human body, so it does not allow the virus to continue to reproduce. The team plans to use the grant to test the vaccine in animal trials.

- read the press release from Scripps
- get the statement from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln