Novel HIV Vaccine Created at The Wistar Institute Funded for Clinical Development

Novel HIV Vaccine Created at The Wistar Institute Funded for Clinical Development

August 30, 2007

(PHILADELPHIA – August 31, 2007) – A promising new HIV vaccine created at The Wistar Institute has received funding for clinical development aimed at moving the vaccine into human clinical trials as soon as possible.

With $13.3 million in funding over five years, the planned trials will be conducted under the auspices of the Integrated Preclinical/Clinical AIDS Vaccine Development Program of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Wistar Institute scientists will collaborate with researchers at Emory University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard School of Public Health, MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit, and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa. The start date for the project is September 1.

“We believe our vaccine, which is built on a novel chimpanzee virus backbone, has unique immunological advantages over other HIV vaccines currently in testing,” says Hildegund C.J. Ertl, M.D., professor and Immunology Program leader at The Wistar Institute. Ertl, principal investigator for the newly funded project, is also director of the Wistar Institute Vaccine Center. “In preclinical studies, the vaccine induced a vigorous immune response in monkeys, and we are hopeful it will do the same in humans.”

Many vaccines currently in development are based on modified human adenoviruses, known as vectors, that incorporate genetic elements from target pathogens to stimulate a protective immune response to those pathogens. These vaccines can work well, but there is an unaddressed problem with this approach, which is that many people receiving the vaccines will have pre-existing immunity to the human viruses upon which they are based, largely negating their effectiveness. About 45 percent of adults in the United States, for example, have pre-existing immunity to a strain of human adenovirus being used as an HIV vaccine vector in current clinical trials.

To circumvent this potential difficulty, the Wistar-led team has developed a series of vaccine vectors based on chimpanzee adenovirus strains, which possess the immunological strengths of human adenoviruses without their drawbacks. The Wistar vaccine will undergo early stage clinical testing for safety and then for its ability to induce an immune response. In the latter trial, the vaccine will be given as a four-part series of inoculations.

Another important aspect of the new HIV vaccine is that it seeks to stimulate a cellular immune response to HIV rather than an antibody response. The cellular immune response corresponds to the T-cell arm of the immune system, while the antibody response corresponds with the B-cell arm of the immune system.

“Based on what we know about HIV and the immune system’s response to the virus, it may not be possible to create a vaccine that generates antibodies able to neutralize HIV,” says Ertl. “For this reason, we and others are now focusing our attention on developing a vaccine that stimulates the production of anti-HIV CD8+ T cells, which have been shown to reduce viral load, although they do not prevent infection. Our vaccine has induced unprecedented levels of activated CD8+ T cells in experimental animals, and we are eager to see if it can perform as well in humans.”

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research, with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. Discoveries at Wistar have led to the creation of the rubella vaccine that eradicated the disease in the U.S., rabies vaccines used worldwide, and a new rotavirus vaccine approved in 2006. Wistar scientists have also identified many cancer genes and developed monoclonal antibodies and other important research tools. Today, Wistar is home to eminent melanoma researchers and pioneering scientists working on experimental vaccines against influenza, HIV, and other diseases threatening global health. The Institute works actively to transfer its inventions to the commercial sector to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the web at