The Department of Biotechnology and International AIDS Vaccine Initiaive are jointly setting up a laboratory to develop an effective AIDS vaccine

An effective vaccine to combat AIDS could soon be developed on the Indian soil as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) has got into an agreement with India to jointly set up a Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI).

A Rs. 40 crore research centre established by IAVI and the Department of Biotechnology will start functioning in another six months to design novel vaccine candidates. There were 2.4 million people living with HIV in India in 2009 and 170,000 people lost their lives that year.  

“Vaccine is still a preferred long-term goal for HIV because for every two persons put on HIV treatment, five more become newly infected,” according to Margaret McGlynn, president and CEO of IAVI.

To function from a temporary premise at Gurgaon until a full-fledged complex come up at Faridabad in two years, the laboratory comes after close to hundred AIDS vaccine candidates worldwide failed to achieve anything substantial on the AIDS vaccine front in the past two decades. Among them, only four went to large scale efficacy trial stage while as many as 70 have been abandoned 26 are in trials, said Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer at IAVI.

Attributing the failures to variability in the human immuno-deficiency virus, Dr. Koff said the outer protein in virus’ envelop in India differs by 25 per cent with that of the virus found in the U.S. Because of the variability, it is difficult to develop a vaccine against HIV,” he explained. There is 10 per cent difference in structure and composition of envelop protein even in the HIV sub-type C found in India and South Africa.

Keeping this huge variability in mind, the new laboratory will focus on new strategies to develop a vaccine targeting those areas in HIV’s envelop that are conserved across strains.  

The specific mission of the laboratory is to develop strategies to accelerate the design and evaluation of HIV immunogens — the active ingredients of vaccines — in pre-clinical studies. THSTI and IAVI expect that the endeavour will, by both harnessing and developing cutting edge biomedical technologies, accelerate progress towards the creation of preventive AIDS vaccines. The research tools and strategies developed here could revolutionise the development of vaccines against other pathogenic viruses, including hepatitis C, dengue and influenza among others.  

The move is in line with India’s objective of stimulating technological innovations through a variety of policy mechanism. The government has, for instance, declared the period between 2010 and 2020 to be India’s ‘Decade of Innovation’. The government has also sought to promote international partnership in biomedical product development to address the nation’s public health challenges — one of them being HIV.

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