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Duke Human Vaccine Institute receives $129 million grant for HIV/AIDS research

The Duke Human Vaccine Institute just got a booster shot of $129 million.

This is the third seven-year grant DHVI has received as the institute hopes to pioneer the development of an HIV and AIDS vaccine. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which has made each of the grants, could provide an additional $18 million to the effort over the coming years.

“We are grateful to receive this new grant to now work toward manufacturing potential vaccines and testing them in animal studies and in carefully designed and monitored clinical trials with human participants,” said Barton Haynes, director of DHVI and Frederic M. Hanes professor of medicine, in a news release.

The Duke-led initiative to find a vaccine will involve researchers around the globe and oversee the manufacturing of treatments at the University’s vaccine facility, which is the only space of its kind belonging to an academic medical center.

Nearly 40 million people are infected with HIV worldwide, and an additional 1.8 million are annually diagnosed with the virus.

Current standard-of-care treatments for HIV include antiretroviral therapy, which mitigates the virus’ effects and prevents sexual transmission instead of eradicating the virus from the body. This is where the need for a vaccine comes in.

Despite HIV’s tendency to mutate and hide within the human genome—making vaccine development difficult—DHVI recently created an antibody that reportedly destroyed 99% of HIV strains in the experiment.

The technique for that study involved selecting two human HIV-fighting antibodies and switching parts to produce a virus-destroying treatment more powerful than any of the natural antibodies.

“We could mix and match and just simply ask, ‘Are there any combinations of artificial hybrid antibodies that are actually more potent than the naturally paired ones that we found from the plasma or the cells?’” Haynes told The Chronicle in 2017.

In 2018, researchers at DHVI also discovered clues as to why only certain people naturally produce HIV-fighting antibodies.

“The road to an effective HIV vaccine has been long and arduous because the virus is an extremely difficult pathogen to protect against,” Haynes said in the news release. “We are optimistic that the path we are on will have a high likelihood of resulting in a vaccine that can protect against multiple HIV types.”

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