Vaccine Briefs

New Center Focuses on Neutralizing Antibodies

A new research center, dedicated to developing AIDS vaccine candidates that can elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, was established recently by The Scripps Research Institute and IAVI. The new HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center will be housed at Scripps in La Jolla, California, and was established with an investment of US$30 million from IAVI, extending the existing collaboration between the two institutions. The center will bring together researchers from diverse fields to work on solving what is arguably the single biggest biological obstacle blocking the discovery of an AIDS vaccine—identifying which HIV immunogens are capable of inducing neutralizing antibodies against the virus.

None of the AIDS vaccine candidates or approaches tested so far in clinical trials has induced broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. Yet such immune responses play a critical role in many, if not all, of the currently licensed vaccines against other viruses and bacteria, and are believed to be critical to the development of an AIDS vaccine that could effectively block transmission of the virus.

Dennis Burton, an immunology professor at The Scripps Research Institute, says researchers at the new center will be venturing into “uncharted waters” that hopefully will yield a greater level of understanding about the mechanisms that enable vaccines to shield people from infection. “Current vaccines simply mimic natural infections,” says Burton, who directs the HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center. “But it turns out for HIV, simple mimicry has been shown not to be effective.”

Scientists affiliated with the Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC), an international consortium of researchers established by IAVI in 2002, will now collaborate with researchers at the HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center, as well as with scientists in IAVI’s own research and development program. This expanded network will focus on immunogen design and identification of neutralizing antibodies against HIV.

Seth Berkley, president and CEO of IAVI, says the creation of the center will ensure that the best minds and institutions are dedicated to solving one of the biggest challenges facing AIDS vaccine researchers today. “We are excited and hopeful that this collaboration will help to bring us closer to developing a vaccine that will end the AIDS pandemic,” adds Berkley. Burton says the new center will also make it easier to recruit top young scientists to the field. Three new scientists will soon be joining a team of researchers who were already working with Burton. David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development in the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center, says housing this many scientists devoted to the HIV neutralizing antibody question under one roof is “quite an extraordinary thing,” and he is hopeful that it will stimulate a more rapid pace of exploration.

“We have a number of groups working together on various aspects of this problem,” says Montefiori, whose own research involves neutralizing antibodies. “But rarely do you have members of that group in close proximity who are sharing ideas and data in real time. It’s something that is needed.”

Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology at Duke University, says that the Scripps team has been a leader in structural analysis of neutralizing antibody epitopes and has made enormous strides in understanding how HIV evades an antibody response. “Having the HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center will be a terrific help to the field,” says Haynes. “We shouldn’t give up on this problem and the funding of this center is a signal of renewed commitment.” —Regina McEnery

Nobel Awarded for Discovery of HIV

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared by French researchers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier for the discovery of HIV. Barré-Sinoussi and Montagnier discovered the retrovirus now known as HIV in 1983, just two years after the first reports of cases described what is now known as AIDS. The finding allowed cloning of the HIV genome, paving the way for the development of methods to diagnose HIV infection, the screening of blood products, and eventually the development of antiretrovirals, according to the Nobel assembly which appoints the winners of the US$1.4 million prize.

German researcher Harald zur Hausen shared the prize for the discovery of human papilloma virus (HPV) types that are linked to the development of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women. This research eventually led to the development of vaccines against HPV which provide 95% protection against these two high-risk types. —Andreas von Bubnoff