The Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, has announced a four-year, $6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an alternative HIV/AIDS vaccine that has demonstrated great potential in animal models.
The grant will provide support to a research team working on a drug designed to coax muscle cells into producing inhibitor proteins that block key sites on the virus's surface used to attach and invade human immune cells. Unable to attach to cells and unable to reproduce, the virus floats impotently in the blood stream.
When the drug candidate, called eCD4-lg, was tested in the laboratory and in animal models, the results were so powerful and universally effective that they suggested the compound's potential as an alternative HIV/AIDS vaccine. The drug candidate offered complete protection in animal models against the virus for up to one year.
"Our compound eCD4-Ig is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far, effective against all strains tested," said Michael Farzan, the Scripps professor who is leading the project. "At the end of our research, we expect to have enough evidence to develop a firm foundation to fully evaluate its potential as an alternative vaccine."