Scientists Launch 23-Million Euro Project to Develop HIV Vaccine

November 2, 2015
Pharmaceutical Technology Editors

The European AIDS Vaccine Initiative has brought together leading HIV researchers from public organizations and biotech companies to develop protective and therapeutic HIV vaccines.

The European AIDS Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020) has brought together leading HIV researchers from public organizations and biotech companies from across Europe, Australia, Canada, and the US to develop protective and therapeutic HIV vaccines. The new 23-million euro initiative to accelerate the search for an effective HIV vaccine is being financed by the European Commission.

Approximately 35 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2013, and more than 2 million people newly infected every year, according to the World Health Organization. HIV treatment is estimated to cost approximately US$22 billion annually. An effective vaccine could potentially provide a means to ending this epidemic.

Recent advances are helping to speed up the development of an effective HIV vaccine. Scientists have isolated antibodies that are able to block HIV infection in preclinical models, and there have been new developments in using synthetic biology to design better vaccines.

German biotech company, BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals GmbH, is a key member of the EAVI2020 consortium, which unites scientists from 22 institutions, pooling their knowledge and expertise to develop novel candidate vaccines that can be taken through to human trials within five years. EAVI2020 is funded with an EU-grant under the health program of Horizon 2020 for research and innovation.

“Creating an effective vaccine against HIV represents one of the greatest biological challenges of a generation,” said Professor Robin Shattock, coordinator of EAVI2020, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said in a press statement. “This project creates an unique opportunity for us to build on the enormous scientific progress gleaned over the last few years, providing an unprecedented insight into the nature of protective antibodies and anti-viral cellular response that will be needed for an effective vaccine. We now understand much more about how humans make protective immune responses and how to structure vaccine candidates. We have a level of understanding at a molecular level that was not previously available.”

“But it is impossible for one group or institution to create an HIV vaccine on its own. This new project should enable us to move much more quickly. It brings together a multidisciplinary team of molecular biologists, immunologists, virologists, biotechnologists and clinicians, providing the breadth of expertise needed to take the latest discoveries in the lab and rapidly advance them through preclinical testing and manufacture, into early human trials.”

BioNTech will provide novel, highly immunogenic, prophylactic and therapeutic vaccine candidates for preclinical and clinical testing in HIV. These vaccines are based on BioNTech´s self-amplifying RNA vaccine vector technology which is ideal for expressing high levels of HIV antigens in vaccine recipients. The self-amplifying RNA vaccine vector technology used in the EAVI2020 consortium promises to be superior to any existing mRNA approaches in infectious disease and is the result of over 20 years of experience in developing and optimising mRNA-based prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines.

Professor Ugur Sahin, founder and CEO of BioNTech said, “We are delighted to be part of this world-class consortium and to collaborate with leading experts from around the globe in the field of anti-infective vaccine development. This project has great potential and will allow us to develop a completely new class of highly-potent, self-amplifying RNA vaccines for the effective prevention and treatment of HIV infection.” 

Dr Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, Director of the Health Directorate at the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission said, “In its dual role of policy maker and research funder, the European Commission has played an essential part for over thirty years in supporting HIV vaccine research. Despite major global investments in the field and the promising progress, several scientific obstacles have to be overcome to develop novel promising HIV vaccine candidates. It is with this in mind that the European Commission is providing an almost 23 million Euro grant to the EAVI2020 consortium from which we have high hopes for success. This will allow European scientists to work together and in collaboration with researchers from outside Europe to successfully develop predictive tools and better vaccine candidates to be tested at an early stage of the process.”

Source: European Commission