Duke, NIAID track HIV evolution with eyes on creating a vaccine

A team led by the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has tracked the evolution of HIV and the body's corresponding immune response, hoping now to turn the knowledge gained into an experimental vaccine.

Peter Kwong

For their study, the group was aided by the identification of a newly diagnosed individual in Africa who provided blood samples periodically. The team then followed "complex dance between the virus and the antibody," Peter Kwong, chief of the Structural Biology Section at the NIAID Vaccine Research Center, said in a statement, to "understand exactly how the virus was teaching the antibody to be a broadly neutralizing antibody."

The team hopes they can use the knowledge to create a vaccine to spur the creation of broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies in healthy people as a protection against the virus. The findings were published in the journal Cell.

Duke and the NIAID report their progress during a period of advancement in the HIV vaccine R&D field that has seen several developments in the last year. Notably last April, Duke University received $20 million in funding from the NIH to conduct its HIV vaccine research. And since then, groups large and small have made reported developments in the field.

In June, a TSRI team reported promising preclinical results and pledged to speak with regulators about human trials. That was followed in July by Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) announcement that its candidate showed progress in monkeys and that it would start a Phase I/IIa clinical trial.

In October, the University of Maryland under the direction of HIV researcher Dr. Robert Gallo launched a clinical trial of a vaccine called Full Length Single Chain to test its ability to create a broad antibody response. The following month, the European Commission launched a €23 million ($25 million) collaboration between 22 organizations and companies to advance HIV research.

And earlier this year, Barcelona-based Aelix Therapeutics launched in the field with a $12.7 million series A round.

The team at Duke and the NIAID said their work will be tested in animal models.

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