Federal Grant to Duke University School of Medicine Expands HIV Research
DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) and the Department of Surgery at Duke University School of Medicine received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for HIV vaccine research that could total $25.9 million with full funding over five years.
The funding supports a multi-institutional effort called The Consortium for Innovative HIV/AIDS Vaccine and Cure Research that is built around two areas of scientific focus: identification of the components and the mechanisms of protection of preventive vaccines; and the use of the newly identified preventive vaccines along with other immune therapies in advancing potential treatments and/or cures.
The grant’s principal investigators are Guido Ferrari, M.D., a professor in the Department of Surgery and research professor in the Department of Genetics and Microbiology, and Wilton Williams, Ph.D., an associate professor in the departments of Surgery and Medicine, and assistant professor in the Department of Immunology at Duke University School of Medicine.
The researchers will lead work that builds upon ongoing HIV vaccine development research at DHVI and expands investigations of vaccine strategies, including innovative mRNA approaches that induce protective immune responses in non-human primate models.
“This grant is synergistic with everything going on at Duke, notably the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID) initiative to design an HIV vaccine,” said Barton Haynes, director of the DHVI. “We are excited about the wonderful science that will be done in the context of this grant. It expands the capacity at Duke, UNC and others who are collaborating on this effort to move forward with both vaccines and potential cures.”
Combining vaccine approaches with cure efforts is designed to stimulate innovative collaborations toward both. Studies in nonhuman primates will investigate how effective HIV/AIDS vaccines protect from initial infection and systemic infection.
Vaccines and other immune interventions will also be used as cure strategies with the goal of eliminating all the infection in the cells. While advances have been made in boosting cellular and antibody immunity, it remains unclear whether the boosted immune response can prevent reinfection after antiretroviral treatments are stopped. With the newly funded grant, the researchers hope to answer that and other questions.
“This grant enables us to do something current vaccine research is not funded to do – explore vaccines with a mission to cure,” Williams said. “Right now, it’s either prevention or cure, and we want to achieve a combination of those things.”
Ferrari said vaccine research has advanced far enough that researchers can now begin applying potential components of vaccines, as well as new technologies such as mRNA vaccine design, to explore ways of eradicating the HIV from infected cells.
“The beauty of mRNA is its ability to be adapted quickly and we can produce it in a timely manner to address new variants, which is important for HIV,” Ferrari said. “We will now focus on how we can capitalize on the current science to eradicate infection.”
“The science underpinning this program has broad applicability, spanning from the immediate goals of eliminating HIV disease, to a more generalizable harnessing of the immune system to prevent emerging infectious diseases, control cancer, and accelerate our understanding of autoimmunity and transplant biology,” said Allan D. Kirk, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Surgery.
“Our department sees the promise of basic investments like these for transformational approaches to care that do not traditionally fall within a surgical department,” Kirk said. “Drs. Williams and Ferrari are vital members of our translational science community.”
In addition to Williams and Ferrari, collaborators at Duke are Priyamvada Acharya, Mihai Azoitei, Derek Cain, Thomas Denny, Robert J. Edwards, Barton Haynes, David Montefiori, Justin Pollara, Keith Reeves, Wes Rountree, Kevin Saunders, Shaunna Shen, Rachel Spreng, Georgia Tomaras, Kevin Wiehe, Kelly Cuttle and Cynthia Nagle.
Study partners include Katharine Barr, Michael Betts, Beatrice Hahn, George Shaw, Drew Weissman at the University of Pennsylvania; Richard Dunham and David Margolis at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Sampa Santra at Harvard University; Andrew McMichael, Persephone Borrow and Geraldine Gillespie at Oxford University; Bette Korber and Kshitij Wagh at Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Mark Lewis at BIOQUAL.