The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has awarded a $3.99 million grant to vaccine specialist Gary Kobinger of Université Laval for work on a preventative HIV vaccine.
The three-year grant supports Kobinger’s work in partnership with the Design and Development Lab in Brooklyn, New York, a research facility operated by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), a global non-profit supporting HIV research.
“We are encouraged by this support of Gary Kobinger’s work and the prospects of his collaboration with IAVI’s Design and Development Lab,” said Mark Feinberg, IAVI CEO, in a press release. “The innovative work of the Kobinger lab provides a great illustration of how creative and insightful science can advance the global response to emerging infectious diseases, and exemplifies ways in which the benefits of research progress in one disease area can be translated to another, in this case, from an understanding of how to develop an effective Ebola vaccine to the ongoing search for an AIDS vaccine.”
Kobinger is known for his pioneering work in helping to develop an effective Ebola vaccine and his work at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s microbiology lab in Winnipeg, where he worked on developing a treatment and vaccine for the Zika virus.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, established in 1997 by US President Bill Clinton, with the intention that “only a truly effective, preventive HIV vaccine can limit and eventually eliminate the threat of AIDS.”
The IAVI says that this year marks a “milestone” in the search for an HIV vaccine. “For the first time, three different approaches are proceeding to efficacy trials simultaneously: two vaccine candidates and one vaccine-related approach,” reads a release. “The largest AIDS vaccine trial of all time, HVTN 702, is using a reformulation of the first candidate to ever demonstrate some protection. That trial relies on more than 5,600 volunteers and is underway in South Africa, where more than 1,000 people each day become infected with HIV.”
Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS and while HIV treatment has come a long way in the past two decades, particularly through advances in antiretroviral drug therapies, the search for therapeutic and preventative vaccines for HIV, both of which would incorporate the body’s own immune system in responding to HIV, is still ongoing.
Scientists say that a major challenge is that the HIV virus mutates quickly, thus limiting the immune system’s ability to develop effective antibodies and, consequently, scientists’ ability to develop an effective vaccine.
And with more than two million people becoming infected with HIV every year — a rate that has dropped only slightly since 2010 —finding a vaccine would be “transformative,” says a statement from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “While the pursuit of a safe and effective HIV vaccine is challenging, this prevention strategy holds lifesaving potential and is NIAID’s highest priority for AIDS research.”
The Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative (CHVI) and the Development Alliance Coordinating Office (ACO) report that part of the recent optimism concerning the prospects for a vaccine stems from research which has identified neutralizing antibodies which can stop the virus from entering healthy cells.
The two organizations met last month, with ACO Director Dr. Greg Hammond stating, ”Over the course of the event we heard that the next few years will see a number of trials of candidate HIV vaccines move ahead in the pipeline. Several innovations and technologies are beginning to mature, and with this, the products and associated benefits are emerging, but there are still a number of barriers to overcome.”