Federal officials have given $42 million to top HIV researchers, including Dr. Louis Picker of Oregon Health & Science University.
Picker has developed one of the most promising HIV vaccines in the country. He’ll get a little over a third of the grant from the National Institutes of Health. The same amount will go to Dr. Dan Barouch of Harvard Medical School. Barouch has a promising vaccine that uses a different approach. Six other scientists will share the rest of the money by performing analyses for the two researchers.
The five-year grant will give Picker and Barouch time to figure out how their approaches to a preventative vaccine are working and then to combine them in hopes of finding a cure.
Picker said he’s relieved to get the grant funded.
“All of my grants from the past five years are ending so I had to work really hard to renew them,” Picker said. “The mission is accomplished. We can keep the USS Enterprise on course for another five-year mission.”
Picker’s vaccine eliminated the virus that causes AIDS from 50 to 60 percent of monkeys who’s been infected. His approach involves using a herpes virus, cytomegalovirus, to train the immune system to fight HIV so that when cells get infected it attacks. Barouch, who’s had about the same success rate in monkeys, relies on antibodies to clear the virus.
It only takes one potent virus to set up shop in the body. The idea is that Barouch’s vaccine could limit the number of infected cells and that Picker’s approach could clear out the rest.
“Stopping HIV may require a combination of vaccine approaches to get full protection,” Picker said.
First, Picker and Barouch have to figure out how their approaches work. Barouch will look at the antibodies and Picker will study killer T cells. Their work on monkeys and the analyses by the other scientists should give them a wider understanding of the science behind the vaccines.
Picker plans the first human trial with his vaccine next year. The first phase will focus on safety. Barouch is now conducting his second safety trial with his approach. After that comes trials that look at how effective the vaccines are.