The Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute and the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University will receive significant funding as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's grants to accelerate the pace of HIV vaccine development. On Wednesday the Gates Foundation announced 16 grants totaling $287 million to fund an international team of scientists studying HIV. Eleven of the grants will fund highly collaborative vaccine research, including research at the VGTI/ONPRC. The other five grants will fund five central facilities to evaluate the immune responses of the vaccines developed through the research group. While the exact total is not known, new funding for the VGTI/ONPRC projects will likely exceed $10 million.
The grant dollars will be used for two distinct research projects as part of the larger AIDS vaccine initiative:
The first project will be aimed at tackling a significant problem in developing a vaccine: eliciting T-cell immunity. Researchers strongly believe that triggering T-cell immunity against HIV will be an important aspect of an effective HIV vaccine. One proposed method for doing this would be to modify other viruses so that they carry pieces of the HIV virus. These "HIV pieces" would cause the immune system to proactively respond and arm itself against HIV. However the HIV segments would not cause HIV. Research at the VGTI would specifically focus on testing the carrier viruses that have previously been identified as promising, but have yet to be tested.
The second research project will investigate possible additives to HIV vaccines that may increase their potency. These substances, called adjuvants, are frequently added to other vaccines to make them more effective. However, exactly how adjuvants work is not fully understood. Scientists at the VGTI and other research institutions will test adjuvants and attempt to determine how they work so that an adjuvant for an HIV vaccine might be developed. This research also could be widely beneficial in developing adjuvents for other types of vaccines.
"There has never been a disease research campaign of this size and magnitude in the past. We believe that OHSU's collaborative work along with the work of dozens of other scientists from 19 countries will have a significant impact on the fight against AIDS at home and abroad," said Louis Picker, M.D. Picker serves as director of the VGTI's vaccine program, associate director of the VGTI, and chief of the Division of Pathobiology and Immunology Division at the ONPRC. He is also a professor of pathology, and molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine.
"We are tremendously honored to be part of this groundbreaking initiative by the Gates Foundation."