IDIBAPS and IrsiCaixa participate in a 23 million euro project to develop HIV vaccine

IDIBAPS and the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute participate in the European AIDS Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020), a project to to accelerate the search for an effective HIV vaccine. This initiative, that is part of the European Comission framework programme for research and innovation (Horizon2020), brings together leading HIV researchers from public organisations and biotech companies from across Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA. IrsiCaixa and IDIBAPS are members of this consortium in which participate 22 institutions. Dr. Joan Joseph, researcher at the Infectious Diseases and AIDS IDIBAPS team led by Dr. Josep M. Gatell, will coordinate the project conducted at IDIBAPS over the next 5 years. At IrsiCaixa, an institute led by Dr. Bonaventura Clotet, this project will be coordinated by Dr. Christian Brander, head of the Host Cellullar and Genetic Immunity group and member of the consortium’s steering comitee. The other spanish participant in the consortium is the Instituto de Salud Carlos III.

According to the World Health Organisation, around 37 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2013. Over two million people are newly infected every year, and it is estimated that around 22 billion US dollars is spent yearly on HIV treatment and care. An effective vaccine remains the best hope of ending the epidemic. Although researchers have been working on developing a vaccine for 30 years, recent advances are helping to speed up their quest. Scientists have isolated antibodies that are able to block HIV infection in preclinical models, and there have been new developments in using synthetic biology to design better vaccines.

Professor Robin Shattock, Coordinator of EAVI2020, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Creating an effective vaccine against HIV represents one of the greatest biological challenges of a generation. This project creates an unique opportunity for us to build on the enormous scientific progress gleaned over the last few years, providing an unprecedented insight into the nature of protective antibodies and anti-viral cellular response that will be needed for an effective vaccine. We now understand much more about how humans make protective immune responses and how to structure vaccine candidates. We have a level of understanding at a molecular level that was not previously available”.

But it is impossible for one group or institution to create an HIV vaccine on its own. This new project should enable us to move much more quickly. It brings together a multidisciplinary team of molecular biologists, immunologists, virologists, biotechnologists and clinicians, providing the breadth of expertise needed to take the latest discoveries in the lab and rapidly advance them through preclinical testing and manufacture, into early human trials.

The research carried out by the IDIBAPS team will be headed by Dr. Joan Joseph, principal investigator of the project and member of the consortium’s steering committee, and will focus on the Pre-Clinical Development of a potential HIV-Tuberculosis preventive vaccine vectored by BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin), which is the tuberculosis vaccine. The recombinant BCG based HIV vaccine is expressing the T-cell immunogen designed by HIVACAT and the HIVconsv1 and HIVconsv2  immunogens engineered by Oxford University. Moreover, as Dr. Joseph explains, "from the IDIBAPS we will also be coordinating all teaching activity and continuous education program taught to predoctoral researchers participating in the international consortium."

At the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institut, Dr. Christian Brander will be involved in the coordination of the project. His team will participate in the pre-clinical and clinical trials that must test the T-cell immunogen designed by HIVACAT. The project will conduct clinical trials of a therapeutic vaccine in people with HIV infection using different vectors, including DNA, MVA and Chimpanzee Adenovirus. "We are thrilled by the opportunity to test the insert developed at IrsiCaixa together with these new vehicles, which have proven their ability to create a broad and powerful immune response in people without infection," explains Brander. The work will be developed in collaboration with other local groups of international prestige in the field of HIV, facilitating the identification of newly infected people with HIV that will be the first target to test the vaccine.

Dr. Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, Director of the Health Directorate at the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission said "In its dual role of policy maker and research funder, the European Commission has played an essential part for over thirty years in supporting HIV vaccine research. Despite major global investments in the field and the promising progress, several scientific obstacles have to be overcome to develop novel promising HIV vaccine candidates. It is with this in mind that the European Commission is providing an almost 23 million Euro grant to the EAVI2020 consortium from which we have high hopes for success. This will allow European scientists to work together and in collaboration with researchers from outside Europe to successfully develop predictive tools and better vaccine candidates to be tested at an early stage of the process".