Search For AIDS Vaccine Ramps Up | November 17, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 46 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 46 | p. 10 | News of The Week
Issue Date: November 17, 2008

Search For AIDS Vaccine Ramps Up

New York City lab opens amid challenges for AIDS vaccines
Department: Business, Science & Technology

THE WORLD'S ONLY lab solely dedicated to the design and development of an AIDS vaccine opened for business last week. The ribbon cutting at the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based research center coincided with news that yet another drug company has abandoned its AIDS vaccine efforts.

The AIDS Vaccine Design & Development Laboratory will pursue three main goals, says Wayne Koff, senior vice president of R&D for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the global public-private partnership that opened the lab.

First, it wants to design a vaccine that will prompt the immune system to make antibodies that can neutralize multiple strains of the AIDS virus. Second, it wants to find vaccine candidates against existing HIV infections. And third, it wants to move vaccine candidates from the lab to the clinic as quickly as possible. This means assisting in process development, designing better adjuvants and delivery systems, and prioritizing candidates, Koff explains.

Scientists at the facility are also devoted to maintaining an open flow of ideas between IAVI and its partners around the world. They expect to run training courses and actively transfer technology to IAVI's partners, while also exchanging faculty and scientists.

The opening of the lab comes amid turbulent times for the AIDS vaccine community. Last year, Merck & Co. halted a large, midstage trial comparing its recombinant adenovirus 5 vector vaccine to a placebo. Not only did the vaccine prove ineffective, but Merck also reported an alarming uptick in new HIV infections among patients given the vaccine.

Then last week, Wyeth announced that it would jettison its AIDS vaccine efforts by selling its viral vaccine portfolio to Profectus Biosciences.

The Merck failure "was probably the last nail in the coffin" for big pharma's interest in the field, says IAVI CEO Seth Berkley. Merck had been the only big drug company funding a major AIDS vaccine program with shareholder money. Other firms had turned to government and private sources to bankroll their efforts.

But Berkley is confident that drug company interest will return if a promising vaccine candidate emerges from a biotech company, IAVI's new labs, or elsewhere in the public sector.

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