A global partnership for vaccine design
In this guest post, Margaret McGlynn, president & CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), writes about a new partnership between IAVI and the Indian government. The post originally appeared on the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Impact blog.
When you’re dealing with a global public health crisis, having an international presence isn’t just advisable—it is imperative. This applies as much to the development of new tools to prevent disease as it does to treatment. An AIDS vaccine candidate, for example, must be tested in the people who will eventually use it and against the strains of HIV it is devised to protect them from.
That’s why (IAVI), in partnership with USAID, has worked diligently over the past several years to establish itself as a truly global nonprofit partner. Using donor funds, IAVI has created an enviable network of research centers in sub-Saharan Africa dedicated to assessing novel AIDS vaccine candidates in clinical trials and conducting supporting epidemiological studies on HIV. These partnerships have made meaningful contributions to the research capacity of many developing countries—a capability that is now helping local researchers tackle other diseases.
IAVI and its partners are now applying that same model to support the design of a new generation of AIDS vaccine candidates. Today, IAVI and the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT), launched an HIV Vaccine Design Program near New Delhi. The program is dedicated to the large-scale generation and preclinical evaluation of immunogens, the active ingredients of vaccines. It will focus on devising immunogens capable of eliciting antibodies that can prevent infection by a broad range of the circulating genetic variants of HIV.
That challenge, known to researchers as the neutralizing antibody problem, has long stymied progress toward an AIDS vaccine. But recent discoveries of antibodies capable of blocking a number of HIV variants have provided researchers with clues to the design of potentially powerful new vaccine candidates. The HIV Vaccine Design Program will use these insights to develop new methods to generate large numbers of potential HIV immunogens and rapidly assess their potential for use in candidate vaccines. Much of the work will take place in a laboratory housed within THSTI that is being built and staffed with support from IAVI, DBT, and THSTI.
The program’s location is no accident. Over the past decade, IAVI has enjoyed a productive partnership for the clinical evaluation of candidate AIDS vaccines with key medical research institutions of the Indian government. Indian scientists have also actively participated in an international consortium of HIV laboratories supported by IAVI to advance HIV vaccine research. The government of India, meanwhile, is in the early phase of its “Decade of Innovation,” a policy that seeks to harness a growing roster of home-grown biotechnology companies, the nation’s deep pool of scientific talent, and global research partnerships to boost innovation in a variety of high-tech fields.
The HIV Vaccine Design Program provides an opportunity to engage an emerging economy in the global quest to develop a vaccine against HIV. For India, it creates an opportunity to address a crisis of significant relevance to Indians. As importantly, it seeds the kinds of collaborations that often foster scientific and technical innovation and generate ideas that might be applied to address other diseases that have long hampered development.