Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
as part of a global effort to speed up development of a vaccine for AIDS.
The Gates Foundation said Wednesday that it was awarding a total of $287 million to the effort to create an international network of scientists for the vaccine development.
The largest grant to Duke is for $31.5 million for creation of what the foundation called a “comprehensive antibody vaccine immune monitoring consortium.” The lead investigator is Dr. David Montefiori, PhD, who is a research professor and director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development in the Department of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center
Another $15 million was awarded to research into novel strategies for vaccine design. Dr. Barton Haynes, an MD, is the director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and the Center for HIV-AIDS Vaccine Immunology (CHAVI) and the lead investigator.
“As researchers make progress in designing promising new vaccine candidates, it is essential that sufficient capacity is in place to manufacture these vaccines, test them in clinical trials, and conduct timely reviews of the results,” Haynes said in a statement. “The grants funded by the Gates Foundation will complement the efforts of CHAVI.”
The CHAVI program has received a pledge of more than $300 million in funding from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
The collaboration is critical to making HIV vaccine development more efficient, said Dr. Nicholas Hellmann, acting director of the Gates Foundation's HIV, TB and reproductive health program.
"Unfortunately, developing an effective HIV vaccine has proven to be tremendously difficult, and despite the committed efforts of many researchers around the world, progress simply has not been fast enough," he said.
Hellmann acknowledged that an effective vaccine may still be 10 years away.
Each of the 165 investigators in 19 countries who will get money in this series of grants had to agree to share their findings in real time and compare results with others _ even if they had been working on competing projects in the past.
Historically, HIV vaccine research mostly has been conducted by small research groups working independently, said Dr. Juliana McElrath, associate head of the infectious diseases program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and a lead researcher on one of the new grants.
"While critical progress has been made, the HIV vaccine field has lacked a shared, focused strategy," she said.
Five of the grants will pay for facilities to test researchers' findings. The 11 grants going to research projects are evenly split between groups seeking to find antibodies that will neutralize HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and researchers trying to find a way to elicit cellular immunity. Hellmann said the ultimate vaccine may combine both approaches.
Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, complimented the Gates Foundation on the approach it was taking, but warned against assuming that this is enough money to finish the work.
"Funding for AIDS vaccine research is still short of what we need," Warren said.
The Gates Foundation has made other awards to Duke in the past, including $20 million in 1998 for interdisciplinary teaching and research and $30 million in 2002 for a new science facility. Another $5 million was donated in 2002 for student life initiatives.
Melinda Gates earned her MBA at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and is a former member of the Duke board of trustees.