New neutralizing antibody research center established

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 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 a preventive AIDS vaccine—identifying how to induce neutralizing antibodies against HIV through vaccination. These Y-shaped molecules latch on to HIV and deactivate it, thereby preventing the virus from infecting critical cells of the immune system (see VAX July 2008 Special IssueUnderstanding the Immune System and AIDS Vaccine Strategies). 

None of the AIDS vaccine candidates or approaches tested so far in clinical trials has induced neutralizing antibodies against HIV, yet they are thought to 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. “We are excited and hopeful that this collaboration will help to bring us closer to developing a vaccine that will end the AIDS pandemic,” says Seth Berkley, president and chief executive officer of IAVI.

Researchers at the new HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center will work to identify neutralizing antibodies from HIV-infected individuals and then will try to identify which immunogens—non-infectious pieces of the virus—could induce these antibodies. Scientists affiliated with the Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC), an international consortium of researchers established by IAVI in 2002, will collaborate with researchers at the HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center, as well as with scientists in IAVI’s own research and development program.

Dennis Burton, an immunology professor at The Scripps Research Institute and the scientific director of the HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center, says researchers 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.

“Having the HIV Neutralizing Antibody Center will be a terrific help to the field,” says Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology at Duke University. “We shouldn’t give up on this problem and the funding of this center is a signal of renewed commitment.” —Regina McEnery