Innovation funding announced for AIDS vaccine research

IAVI recently launched a US$10 million initiative to actively identify and fund small- and medium-sized biotechnology companies that are developing innovative technologies in an effort to bring these novel applications to bear on the research and development of an effective AIDS vaccine. This new funding mechanism, called the Innovation Fund, was announced at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which was held September 26-28 in New York City. Half of the funding for this initiative came from a grant provided to IAVI by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Innovation Fund will target unconventional and unproven concepts from areas beyond those currently being investigated within the AIDS vaccine field. A panel of expert advisers will comb through promising technologies in diverse fields, such as cancer immunology and therapeutics and monoclonal antibody engineering, to search for the most promising and creative ideas. "We created the Innovation Fund to bring the best and the brightest minds from outside the field to AIDS vaccine development," says Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of IAVI.

One of the guiding principles of the Innovation Fund is speed. Advisers will work quickly to identify and fund roughly 15 to 20 companies over the next three years with seed money that will allow them to determine if their technologies are feasible for AIDS vaccine research in a relatively short time period—12 to 18 months. The Fund will also conduct rapid evaluations of the potential technologies, awarding grants within just eight weeks.

The grants issued by the Innovation Fund will focus primarily on areas that IAVI has identified as the major obstacles to vaccine development. They include technologies that address how to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV (see VAX February 2007 Primer on Understanding Neutralizing Antibodies); how to identify and deliver the fragments of HIV, known as immunogens, that are capable of inducing an immune response that can control HIV infection; and how to stimulate immune responses in mucosal tissues (see VAX December 2005 Primer onUnderstanding Mucosal Immunity), which are a primary entry point for the virus during sexual transmission.