NIH Awards $16 Million to Penn-led Group to Develop Synthetic DNA Vaccines to Fight HIV

The National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded $16 million over the next five years for a collaborative study led by scientists from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The goal of this award is to broaden advances with synthetic DNA vaccines already made by this team and to develop the next generation of more widely effective HIV vaccines.

There remains a pressing need for an effective HIV vaccine, and no current approach sufficiently induces effective antibody responses to block infection of diverse HIV viral strains, as well as T cell responses to clear HIV infection.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to push the technology envelop to develop this next generation vaccine for HIV,” notes the award’s principal investigator David Weiner, PhD, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Penn. “We are honored to work with this important team of outstanding academic, government, and industry scientists. Together we are well positioned to make an important contribution in this area.”

Weiner, a leader in DNA vaccine research for the last two decades, has assembled a group of scientists from Emory University, Duke University, and the University of Massachusetts, as well as scientists from the NIH Vaccine Research Center and DNA product development company Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The goal of this grant is to create a new collection of synthetic HIV antigens based on the DNA platform pioneered by Penn scientists. These antigens will be delivered in planned preclinical and clinical trials using Inovio’s delivery system, as well as in combination with an engineered protein to drive broader vaccine immunity. The new DNA vaccine will use a cutting-edge approach to enhance its potency by including encoded immune signals directly engineered into the vaccine.

The team proposes that this new vaccine will generate an enhanced spectrum of cellular and anti-HIV immune responses compared to current HIV vaccines. “Such an accomplishment would represent a major advance for the HIV vaccine field, as well as for the field of vaccines in general,” explains Weiner.

If successful, the new vaccine will undergo field trials through the NIH-sponsored HIV Vaccine Trials Network in a few years.

Weiner has received compensation from Inovio Pharmaceuticals for consulting and serving on its scientific advisory board.

Source: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania