Scripps Research Institute Receives $6 Million for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Research

Experimental drug blocks key sites on the virus surface that attach and invade human immune cells.

Experimental drug blocks key sites on the virus surface that attach and invade human immune cells.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded nearly $6 million to scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) to develop a revolutionary HIV/AIDS alternative vaccine that has demonstrated great potential in animal models.

The research is to be headed by TSRI Professor Michael Farzan and will be supported through 4 years of funding. It is the first grant to be given to Scripps Florida scientists by the Gates Foundation.

“I’m grateful to the Gates Foundation for its strong support of our research and for its continued commitment to eradicating HIV/AIDS throughout the world,” Farzan said.

Farzan’s approach works by coaxing muscle cells into producing inhibitor proteins that block key sites on the virus’s surface that attach and invade human immune cells — fooling the virus into thinking it is binding to a human cell. Unable to attach to cells and unable to reproduce, the virus simply floats through the bloodstream with no effect to the body.

When the drug candidate, called eCD4-lg, was tested in animal models, the results were so strong and positive that the researchers immediately thought to use it as an alternative HIV/AIDS vaccine.

The drug offered complete protection of animal models against the virus for up to a year.

“Our compound eCD4-lg is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far, effective against all strains tested,” Farzan said. “At the end of our research, we expect to have enough evidence to develop a firm foundation to fully evaluate its potential as an alternative vaccine.”