Dr. Fauci on innovative HIV vaccine initiative awards: “There are fundamental questions that remain unanswered”

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Researchers at 14 institutions will explore new approaches to designing a vaccine against HIV with awards that are part of an anticipated four-year, $34.8 million initiative, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced today.

The awards reflect directions suggested by previous research, as well as the need to explore new avenues toward a vaccine, NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci told Science Speaks.

“The whole issue of HIV vaccines has been a difficult black box for researchers,” Fauci said Tuesday. Unexpected results from the RV144 vaccine trial in Thailand, “the one vaccine that has been modestly successful,” Fauci said, are among the developments in recent years to suggest possible directions for new vaccine design.

While the vaccine candidate tested in Thailand was not successful enough to be considered promising as it is, it yielded information on avenues that researchers had not pursued, and hopes for a candidate that could address the some of the most confounding factors in vaccine development.

“There are some remaining important facts that we don’t know about HIV,” Fauci said. “There are many fundamental questions that remain unanswered.”

The awards are intended to allow researchers to ask those questions, he said.

The list of grantees reflects a “clear recognition that there is not likely to be a single answer to what will make a vaccine most effective,” Mitchell Warren, Executive Director, AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention said.

“I think what’s most interesting and exciting is some of the diversity that’s displayed in the awards,” he said. “Each is working on a different approach. We have seasoned investigators and young researchers. Familiar names and unfamiliar names. I’m excited by that. We need to see diversity. We need to test lots of different things.”

While NIAID has long funded innovation in the search for a vaccine, the awards coming now reflect an increased commitment to the goal, Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Director Bill Snow said.

“It’s an effort to get a vaccine sooner, rather than later, especially in places where it will make a big difference,” he said. While several vaccine candidates will be tested for effectiveness in the next few years, a continued search for new approaches is critical, he said, “to either lead to a construct, help us improve the constructs we have, or give us a better understanding of what we need to do.”

Some of the approaches researchers are looking at will be discussed at the upcoming AIDS Vaccine 2012 Conference from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12 in Boston.

“One may work, some may work, none may work,” Warren said. “That’s the nature of innovation.”

The list of awards is below:

Altravax Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.)
• Principal Investigator: Robert Whalen, DSc.
• Project title: Germline-Specific Immunogens for the Induction of Neutralizing Antibodies to HIV-1.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10270601, is for $597,816 for fiscal year 2012.

Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.)
• Principal Investigator: Venigalla Rao, Ph.D.
• Project title: Potent Phage T4-Derived V2 Immunogens as HIV Vaccines.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10272501, is for $413,787 for fiscal year 2012.

Dartmouth College (Hanover, N.H.)
• Principal Investigator: Margaret Ackerman, Ph.D.
• Project title: Applying High-Performance Protein Engineering Tools to HIV Immunogen Design.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10269101, is for $479,437 for fiscal year 2012.

Duke University (Durham, N.C.)
• Principal Investigator: Herman Staats, Ph.D.
• Project title: Mucosal Vaccination to Protect Against HIV-1 Infection at Mucosal Sites.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10274701, is for $492,072 for fiscal year 2012.

Harvard Medical School (Boston)
• Principal Investigator: Amitinder Kaur, M.D.
• Project title: Natural Killer T Cells as Modulators of AIDS Vaccine Efficacy.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10269301, is for $846,896 for fiscal year 2012.

Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston)
• Principal Investigator: Galit Alter, Ph.D.
• Project title: Tuning Fc-Effector Functions of HIV-Specific Antibodies.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10266001, is for $609,875 for fiscal year 2012.

NYU Langone Medical Center (New York City)
• Principal Investigator: Catarina Hioe, Ph.D.
• Project title: Contributions of Anti-V2 Antibodies in Protection Against HIV.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10274001, is for $579,543 for fiscal year 2012.

University of California (Irvine)
• Principal Investigator: Donald Forthal, M.D.
• Project title: The Impact of Antibody and pH on Female-to-Male SIV Infection.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10271501, is for $718,324 for fiscal year 2012.

University of Maryland (Baltimore)
• Principal Investigator: Charles Pauza, Ph.D.
• Project title: Neonatal Fc-Receptor-Targeted Mucosal HIV Vaccine.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10268001, is for $779,175 for fiscal year 2012.

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (Newark)
• Principal Investigator: Abraham Pinter, Ph.D.
• Project title: Optimizing Protective Vaccine Targets in the V1/V2 Domain of HIV-1 gp120.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10271801, is for $566,739 for fiscal year 2012.

University of Minnesota (Minneapolis)
• Principal Investigator: Ashley Haase, M.D.
• Project title: Vaccine Design to Concentrate Protective Antibodies at the Mucosal Border.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10262501, is for $843,856 for fiscal year 2012.

University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
• Principal Investigator: Nikolay Dokholyan, Ph.D.
• Project title: Immunogen Design to Target Carbohydrate-Occluded Epitopes on the HIV envelope.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10273201, is for $514,331 for fiscal year 2012.

University of Rochester (Rochester, N.Y.)
• Principal Investigator: Mark Dumont, Ph.D.
• Project title: Yeast Genetic Approach to Enhance the Immunogenicity of HIV Envelope Glycoprotein.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10273001, is for $386,250 for fiscal year 2012.

University of Texas at El Paso
• Principal Investigator: June Kan-Mitchell, Ph.D.
• Project title: Effector and Regulatory Activities of HLA-E-restricted HIV-specific CD8 T Cells.
• The initial award, supported by grant number 1R01AI10266301, is for $531,600 for fiscal year 2012.

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