A-list academic consortium snaffles €23M to take HIV vaccine into clinic

A consortium of top-tier European research centers has snagged €23 million ($25 million) to take a HIV vaccine toward the clinic. The Imperial College London-led project is drawing on the scientific capabilities of 23 research centers in an attempt to move a HIV vaccine into Phase I within the next 5 years.

Professor Robin Shattock

Imperial is working with its compatriot the University of Oxford, France's public health research body Inserm, Italy's San Raffaele, Sweden's Karolinska Institutet and a host of other leading organizations on the project. The willingness of the consortium to commit time to the project--and persuade the European Commission to part with €23 million from its Horizon 2020 program--is underpinned by a belief that the science of vaccines and HIV have advanced to the point at which a preventative shot is a realistic ambition.

"We now understand much more about how humans make protective immune responses and how to structure vaccine candidates," Robin Shattock, the project coordinator and professor at Imperial said in a statement. "We have a level of understanding at a molecular level that was not previously available." Shattock singled out recently gained knowledge of "the nature of protective antibodies and anti-viral cellular response" as being of particularly importance to the prospects of the vaccine R&D program.

The involvement of tens of organizations in the project--including German biotech BioNTech and three academic centers from outside the European Union--is intended to give the consortium the breadth of capabilities needed to overcome the challenges involved in making a HIV vaccine. Each participant has a different role in the strategy. Imperial, for example, is looking at how the immune systems of healthy volunteers respond to vaccine candidates. By studying the antibodies produced by people exposed to the candidates, Imperial hopes to enable the refinement of the vaccines.

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