Duke University scores $20M from NIH to develop HIV vaccine

HIV particles infecting a human T cell--Courtesy of NIH/NIAID

In a win for HIV vaccine research, Duke University researchers have scored $20 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to develop an HIV vaccine.

Dr. Mary Klotman, chair of Department of Medicine at the university's School of Medicine, received a $9 million grant and Dr. Sallie Permar, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, received an $11 million grant, the Triangle Business Journal reported. Both grants are for 5 years.

While this is good news for Duke and the HIV vaccine field, it also highlights the importance of external funding for such programs, funding without which research can stall. Just a week ago, GeoVax Labs, wrote in a letter to shareholders that it successfully completed a Phase IIa safety trial of its candidate against the clade B HIV subtype. The next step is a Phase IIb efficacy trial, but the $70 million clinical trial cost is prohibitive not just for the company, but also for the entities conducting the trials, the NIH and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network.

Instead, GeoVax will embark on a Phase I study to test its candidate with a protein boost, which could fortify the antibody response to HIV. The protein, gp120, will be supplied by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases. It is the same protein used in the RV114 trial in Thailand, in which Sanofi ($SNY) and VaxGen's HIV vaccine regimen ultimately failed. The vaccines were given a second chance in South Africa, and in October, researchers reported positive results, provoking robust immune responses in 100 healthy adults.

"We believe the HVTN and its funding agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), are taking the prudent step to evaluate the impact of protein boosts in combination with GeoVax vaccines. Information from this trial will inform the design of future, larger, clinical trials," said Harriet Robinson, GeoVax's chief scientific officer.

- here's the Triangle Business Journal story on Duke University
- read GeoVax's release
- get GeoVax's letter to shareholders