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October 22, 2003



Scientists from Emory School of Medicine and Emory Vaccine Center Will Develop HIV Vaccine Made from Virus-Like Particles (VLPs)

ATLANTA – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $19 million, five-year grant for HIV vaccine development grant to Novavax, Inc., along with partners at Emory University School of Medicine and the Emory Vaccine Center, Tulane University, and the University of Pittsburgh. The award is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Vaccine Design and Development Teams program. The Emory team of researchers includes Richard W. Compans, PhD, professor and chair of microbiology and immunology and faculty members Sang-Moo Kang, PhD, Andrei N. Vzorov, PhD, and Chinglai Yang, PhD.

Scientists at Emory and Novavax, Inc., including Robin A. Robinson, PhD, director of Novavax’s Vaccine Division and principal investigator for the grant, are developing and testing a novel virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine. The genes that encode the main structural proteins of HIV (the envelope and gag core proteins) will first be expressed in insect or mammalian cells. These proteins self-assemble to form VLPs, which are devoid of the virus genes themselves, and will be purified to form the vaccine. The investigators propose to deliver this protein-based vaccine in a manner that they predict will induce broad neutralizing antibodies against HIV in blood and mucosal tissues. The HIV genes for initial testing of the vaccine were taken from HIV strains in circulation in the United States. In subsequent studies the investigators will use genes from other geographic regions in similar approaches.

Most scientists agree that a successful AIDS vaccine should induce both antibody and cell-mediated immune responses. The Emory group has successfully constructed HIV virus-like particles (VLPs) that have been shown to induce both antibody responses and cellular immune responses in animals, including mice and monkeys. In this project, novel strategies will be developed for production of HIV VLPs with enhanced immunogenicity to test their effectiveness in inducing immune responses.

"The use of VLPs for immunization has several advantages," notes Dr. Compans. "The nonreplicative nature of VLPs and their lack of viral genomic RNA make them safe for broad and repeated application. Since the assembly and arrangement of components in VLPs resembles that of the virus, they may be more effective in inducing neutralizing antibodies. Furthermore, VLPs are less likely to undergo aberrant events during purification that would alter their native properties."

Many other vaccine approaches elicit immune response against other components present in the vaccine, Dr. Compans says, which may limit the possibility of boosting immunity by repeated administration. In contrast, the VLP vaccine contains only HIV antigens, and can thus be administered repeatedly to boost immune responses. Thus, VLP vaccines provide a promising new approach for the development of a highly effective HIV vaccine with a high degree of safety.

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