Scripps Florida nets 4-year, $6M grant from Gates Foundation for HIV vaccine

In June, a team from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, met with federal regulators to discuss human trials for its investigational HIV vaccine. Now, researchers from the Scripps campus in Florida have won a four-year grant of up to $6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a vaccine for HIV/AIDS that researchers there have been working on.

Michael Farzan

The candidate has shown promise in animal models, Scripps Florida said in a statement on Wednesday. Scripps professor Michael Farzan will lead the research.

The candidate, eCD4-Ig, works by preventing the virus from attaching to human immune cells. It "coaxes" muscle cells into producing inhibitor proteins that attach to key sites on the virus' surface, Scripps said in the statement. The virus is then unable to attach to human cells or reproduce, leaving it floating impotently in the bloodstream.

"Our compound eCD4-Ig is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far, effective against all strains tested," Farzan said. "At the end of our research, we expect to have enough evidence to develop a firm foundation to fully evaluate its potential as an alternative vaccine."

The candidate was tested in animal models, where it offered complete protection against HIV for up to one year.

Among the other players in the HIV vaccine race are Weill Cornell Medical College, France's Biosantech and Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen, which reported success in a preclinical trial in 24 rhesus monkeys this July. In April, Duke University researchers scored $20 million in grants from the NIH for HIV vaccine development.

- here's the release