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OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute receives Grant for AIDS Vaccine Development

Research supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will accelerate OHSU’s promising vaccine candidate

OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute receives Grant for AIDS Vaccine Development Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute have been awarded an $8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further develop a promising HIV vaccine candidate to combat the worldwide AIDS epidemic.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 34 million people have contracted HIV worldwide, and more than one-third of babies born in low- and middle-income countries already are infected.

The research will build on previous research conducted by Louis Picker, M.D., and colleagues at the OHSU Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute's. In May of 2011, the Picker lab published findings that demonstrated how immune responses elicited by their vaccine candidate were able to completely control SIV (the monkey equivalent of HIV) among a significant number of exposed animals.

The unique aspect of the new vaccine candidate is the use of a cytomegalovirus (CMV) engineered to express SIV or HIV proteins as the transport system (vector) used to raise protective immune responses against these AIDS-causing viruses. CMV is a persistent virus that most people are already infected with, causing few or no symptoms, and elicits very strong cellular responses that are maintained for life. These immune responses are characterized by a type of T cell, called an effector memory T cell, that is has potent anti-viral function and localize in the same tissues targeted by the AIDS-causing viruses. Picker and his team hypothesize that CMV vector-generated anti-HIV responses would be constantly on the alert for HIV, and would be able to intercept and stop HIV infection immediately after exposure.

The new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support work to improve the vaccine delivery method. It will also support work to further increase the effectiveness of the vaccine candidate. In previous studies, the candidate vaccine’s effectiveness was more than 50 percent.

“One promising aspect of studying SIV is that it is a more potent virus than its human counterpart," “Therefore, we expect that a human form of this vaccine candidate - while still some years away - would have a higher effectiveness rate than other current candidates. However, before a human vaccine is tested, there is much more work to be done in regards to safety and other areas,” explained Picker.

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