Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 virus budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte

SFI External Professor Bette Korber, a senior researcher in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Theoretical Division, is part of an international team of investigators preparing for the first human trial of a mosaic HIV vaccine candidate.

The vaccine represents a novel strategy for fighting the virus that causes AIDS by attempting to address the virus’s extensive genetic diversity. Traditional HIV vaccines are designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to recognize naturally occurring stretches of specific amino acids in the virus’ proteins. In contrast, mosaic vaccines are composed of many sets of synthetic, computer-generated sequences of proteins that can prompt the immune system to respond to a wide variety of circulating HIV strains.

Such vaccines have already been studied in animals and have shown some success in enhancing the breadth of immune responses. Results of those studies appeared earlier this year in Nature Medicine.

Korber and SFI Professor Tanmoy Bhattacharya are members of a team that designed the vaccine that will be used in the human study.

About 33 million people worldwide live with HIV/AIDS, according to the World Health Organization. There is now no cure or vaccine for HIV.

Plans for the human trial are being led by the Duke University Medical Center under Dr. Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI). The newly formed research coalition has begun designing an early phase safety trial to assess mosaic vaccines in humans. The trial will test the mosaic concept and could lead to the next generation of HIV vaccine candidates.

The consortium hopes to launch human trials by late 2012.

“Based on computational models, mosaic vaccines were predicted to perform better than natural HIV genes,” Korber says. “Experimental studies in animals, which directly compared mosaic to natural vaccines, supported that prediction. We are excited to test this concept in humans.”

See also: Los Alamos National Laboratory news release

See also: IAVI Report interview with Bette Korber

See also: March 2010 SFI news article about the mosaic vaccine project

See also: Nature Medicine abstract about animal trials

See also: Nature Medicine abstract 2 about animal trials