Seattle Researchers are a Significant Step Closer to an HIV Vaccine

A team of researchers have discovered a vaccine candidate that is expected to stimulate the production of neutralizing antibodies that defend against infection from a broad spectrum of HIV strains. A manuscript published in Science magazine details the work and discovery from a team of Seattle-based researchers led by Dr. Leo Stamatatos. Stamatatos conducted the research while he was at Seattle BioMed before moving his team to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center earlier this year.

The vaccine consists of a protein antigen which works by stimulating the progenitors of those B cells, a type of immune cell that produces antibodies that bind to a wide spectrum of HIV strains. By binding to the HIV virus, the antibodies block infections or “neutralize” the virus.

“The hypothesis and approach is something completely different from what’s been done before,” says Stamatatos, a member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutchinson. “Just for that, I feel optimistic that we’re going to be one step closer to finding a vaccine.”

The vaccine builds upon previous work by scientists and addresses the inefficiencies of other promising vaccine approaches. If progress continues, the vaccine could be in human trials in two years.

“We’re so proud of the work done by Dr. Stamatatos and his team at Seattle BioMed. This is a very exciting step forward for HIV/AIDS research and represents several years of outstanding work toward a fundamentally different way of inducing protection through an HIV vaccine,” says Dr. John Aitchison, scientific director at Seattle BioMed.

“These findings give researchers new clues to improve the chances of inducing broadly neutralizing antibodies, which is the holy grail of an HIV vaccine,” says Dr. Julie McElrath, senior vice president and director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutch

The clinical trials will determine, for the first time in humans, whether the vaccine can elicit the right neutralizing antibodies to block the virus. Researchers will then need to determine how to maintain the antibodies for extended periods and ensure they are at the surface where HIV enters the body.

Source: Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center