InnoCentive recently announced the posting of one of the most ambitious Challenges we've seen to date - posted by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI). The objective of this Challenge is to further the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine. I asked Kalpana Gupta, Ph.D., Director, New Alliances & Initiatives at IAVI to provide a bit of insight into the current state of HIV/AIDS vaccine development and the importance of this particular Challenge to that effort.
Hi Kalpana - thanks for answering my questions today. Can you tell me about the general state of the search for a vaccine for HIV/AIDS?
Hi Connie. Although HIV was discovered to be the virus that causes AIDS 25 years ago, the effort to develop a preventive AIDS vaccine has only been a robustly funded initiative in the last decade. In that time, we have seen a tremendous surge in political and financial support for AIDS vaccine development. We have also seen a steady stream of incremental advances that provide the foundation for the AIDS vaccine development efforts now underway across the globe.
This work has provided scientific evidence to suggest that an AIDS vaccine is possible and has given us clues as to what an effective human vaccine must do. For example, in studies using simian immunodeficiency virus, which causes a disease like AIDS in monkeys, we have learned that broadly neutralizing antibodies can protect against immunodeficiency virus and that live-attenuated vaccines can protect monkeys from infection with the simian equivalent of HIV.
Today only two AIDS vaccine candidates have completed efficacy testing and unfortunately both proved non-efficacious. We are still in the early stages of the search for a preventive AIDS vaccine. It is typical for vaccines to take decades to develop. We don't know how long it will take to develop an AIDS vaccine, but we can't afford to give up. With 2.5 million people becoming newly infected each year, we have no choice but to search for a way prevent people from becoming infected with HIV.
Can you explain why it has been so difficult to create a vaccine for HIV?
The development of an AIDS vaccine is one of the greatest challenges currently facing medical research. HIV is a moving target. It replicates and mutates quickly, generating many subtypes of HIV. Also, unlike other diseases, HIV does not usually elicit broadly-neutralizing antibodies that can prevent infection. What's more, today we still don't know how best to trigger an immune response to HIV. Do we need to stimulate cellular immunity or neutralizing antibodies or immunity at the mucosal surfaces where HIV initially takes hold, or do we need a combination of these immune responses? And finally, we don't know whether a single universal vaccine can create immunity against all the different variations of the HIV virus.
Experts don't know how long it will take to develop an AIDS vaccine. But we do know from history that a vaccine is the only way to end a major viral epidemic and that perseverance and long-term investment are necessary to develop any vaccine.
What appealed to you about posting your Challenge on InnoCentive?
InnoCentive has access to a diverse pool of talent from many different disciplines. And we hope that one or more of these experts will bring a fresh perspective to one of the toughest challenges we face today in advancing AIDS vaccine research and development.
Can you tell us how a solution to this challenge will further the development of a vaccine?
Most experts agree that in order to prevent infection from HIV entirely, an effective AIDS vaccine will have to stimulate broadly neutralizing antibodies.
Today, we have identified from the blood of HIV-infected individuals several broadly neutralizing antibodies that can prevent infection from HIV. What we don't yet have are immunogens that can stimulate the production of these antibodies. IAVI is challenging InnoCentive Solvers to develop a stable immunogen based on the part of the HIV envelope that is first visible to the body. Immunogens using the HIV envelope have been successfully tested in animal models. The challenge now is to produce an immunogen that remains consistently intact in laboratory testing. If successful, InnoCentive solvers will have overcome one of the major hurdles facing the development of the next generation of AIDS vaccine candidates.
This Challenge is a bit different than most, because it offers the opportunity for a tiered reward. Can you tell me how that would work?
A Solver who successfully provides an envelope trimer mimic with the desired antigenicity will initially receive $150K. IAVI will confirm these results independently and continue to test this protein. If this protein is able to generate broadly neutralizing antibody responses that can effectively thwart viral infection, IAVI will consider providing researchers with a bonus of up to $1 million and/or the opportunity to pursue further related research with support from IAVI.
Thank you - I know our Solvers appreciate knowing a bit more backstory on our Seekers. Good luck with your Challenge!