The Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) on Wednesday announced an agreement to jointly establish, operate and fund an HIV Vaccine Design Program in India.

The program will include the establishment of a new laboratory on the campus of THSTI in the National Capital Region of Delhi. The program will primarily focus on one of the greatest scientific challenges of AIDS vaccine design and development: the elicitation of antibodies capable of neutralising a broad spectrum of circulating HIV variants, a problem that stems in large part from the almost unparalleled mutability of HIV.

“With 7,100 people newly infected with HIV every day, effective tools to prevent infection are indispensible to the fight against HIV and AIDS,” said M.K. Bhan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology. A broadly effective AIDS vaccine would be a powerful asset to efforts to arrest the spread of HIV.

The HIV Vaccine Design Program will capitalise on recent research advances that have sparked a renaissance in AIDS vaccine R&D. In September 2009, scientists at IAVI and their colleagues in the Neutralising Antibody Consortium (NAC), which is run by IAVI, reported the isolation of a pair of potent and very broadly neutralising antibodies against HIV. That discovery, the first of its kind in a decade, was followed by the isolation of other broadly neutralising antibodies (bNAbs) by researchers at the Vaccine Research Center of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and of still more by the IAVI-affiliated team. The most promising of these antibodies are now being scrutinised by researchers to elucidate the specific mechanisms by which they bind to and neutralise HIV. The idea is to create artificially synthesised mimics of their targets on HIV, to be used in vaccines to elicit similarly potent bNAbs and teach the immune system how to thwart HIV infection.

Coordinated global effort

The IAVI-THSTI collaborative program will participate in a coordinated, global effort to create replicas of bNAb targets in the laboratory for use as immunogens, which are the active ingredients of vaccines. This program will be charged with the complex task of developing, testing and then implementing strategies to rapidly screen large numbers of bNAb-based immunogens against HIV-1 and to prioritise them for further evaluation in preclinical studies. The Department of Biotechnology, THSTI and IAVI expect that the program using high-throughput (HT) screening will ultimately lead to strategies for next generation immunogen design and expand the number of AIDS vaccine candidates available for assessment in human trials.

The THSTI-IAVI program will be an integral part of the THSTI cluster of research centres. It will be linked closely to both the hub of the NAC, the IAVI Neutralising Antibody Center at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and to IAVI’s AIDS Vaccine Design and Development Laboratory in New York. The work conducted will also complement a current partnership IAVI has with the Indian Medicinal Chemistry

Program (IMCP), under the auspices of the Department of Biotechnology, to design and generate conceptually novel HIV immunogens. Other institutions participating in this partnership include the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

The Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) is an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, and is a part of the interdisciplinary Health Biotech Science cluster, located in the National Capital Region.

Keywords: HIVAIDSTHSTIAIDS vaccine