Umass Medical School wins NIH grant to develop HIV vaccine: Public/private partnership team shares $70 million grant with three others worldwide

July 07, 2000

WORCESTER, Mass. - In response to President Clinton's 1997 call to develop an HIV vaccine in ten years, the National Institutes of Health this week awarded an HIV Vaccine Design and Development Team (HVDDT) research contract to the University of Massachusetts Medical School and project partner Advanced BioScience Laboratories, Inc. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the NIH institute providing the funding, has committed approximately $70 million over the next five years to just four public-private partnerships worldwide, in an effort to accelerate the development and testing of promising HIV vaccines.

The NIAID made the final selection of award winners after a year-long international search to build a consortia of scientists with development expertise from industry and academia who have identified promising HIV vaccine concepts. The awards are aimed at vaccine candidates in the middle of the development process-those not yet in clinical trials. Each of the four HVDDT contracts proposes using a DNA-based HIV vaccine for the initial immunization, yet will differ in their use of a second "booster." The proposals will differ in the unique properties of the DNA, the specific immune response that is targeted, the delivery system used, and the manner of boosting the initial vaccine.

Shan Lu, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UMMS, will lead colleagues at the university in their work on the project. Phil Markham, PhD, and Ranajit Pal, PhD, both of Advanced BioScience Laboratories, Inc., of Kensington, Maryland, will direct efforts at ABL. Both institutions have focused on identifying several milestones in HIV vaccine development. UMMS, a pioneer in DNA vaccine research, will focus on the DNA component while ABL will concentrate on various proteins to serve as the booster component of a vaccine.

Dr. Lu has focused on the HIV vaccine for the last eight years and has been particularly interested in novel vaccine development. Dr. Markham has been instrumental in the development and testing of methods to prevent or treat HIV infection since his involvement in its discovery nearly two decades ago.

UMMS was also designated in 1998 as one of the nation's Centers for AIDS Research and as such is an important resource for the advancement of AIDS-related research, facilitating interdisciplinary and international collaborations, technology transfer through academic-industry collaborations, research dissemination activity, and community outreach. UMMS is one of just two such centers in the state.

In addition to the UMMS/ABL partnership, HVDDT contracts were also awarded to the Chiron Corporation of Emeryville, California; the University of New South Wales, Australia; and Wyeth Lederie Vaccines and Nutrition of Pearl River, New York, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University.

The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing medical schools in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research. UMass Medical School and its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, attracts more than $93 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. Research funding enables UMass researchers to explore human disease from the molecular level to large-scale clinical trials. Basic and clinical research leads to new approaches for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.

ABL, an affiliate of Organon Teknika of Durham, North Carolina, has been a leader in providing biomedical research support to NIH, Department of Defense, and other government and private institutions for almost 40 years. Contributions by ABL scientists to biomedical research in the field of human retrovirology include such landmark achievements as the discovery and/or characterization of several key viruses, retroviruses and growth factors. ABL scientists developed the first commercially useful blood screening and confirmatory tests to identify HIV-1 infected individuals and developed a unique system for the large-scale production of specific proteins for diagnostic and vaccine use. ABL and Teknika are members of the Pharma Group of AKZO Nobel, located in the Netherlands.

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