The Institute of Human Virology (IHV) at the Maryland School of Medicine has been awarded $23.4 million in grants from a consortium of funders led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support preclinical and Phase I/II development of an HIV vaccine.
The vaccine is based on an immunogen designated FLSC (full-length side chain), which is designed to elicit protective antibody responses across the spectrum of HIV-1 strains. Continuing research with the candidate will be carried out by IHV’s director, Robert C. Gallo, M.D., together with scientists at Sanofi Pasteur and the Military HIV Research Program, which put $2.2 million into the overall grant pot. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided the largest, $16.8 million slice of the overall funds, with the remainder of the investment coming from a range of sources including the NIH.
The grants will fund continuing preclinical work and clinical testing of the FLSC vaccine to evaluate its safety and ability to elicit immune responses in humans. The collaborators also aim to investigate a potential prime-boost vaccination strategy combining the FLSC vaccine with Sanofi Pasteur’s Alvac vaccine candidate, which has undergone Phase III trials in Thailand.
The FLSC vaccine is designed to induce antibodies against common HIV regions that are exposed when the virus attaches to target cells rather than to HIV envelope proteins that may not be present in all virus strains, IHV explains. “IHV’s unique and promising HIV/AIDS vaccine candidate is designed to bind to the virus at the moment of infection, when many of the different strains of HIV found around the world can be neutralized,” notes Dr. Gallo, who is one of the original discoverers of HIV. “We believe this mechanism is a major prerequisite for an effective HIV preventive vaccine.”