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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 5 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 36
Gates Foundation awards $25 million to vaccine research
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Gates Foundation awards $25 million to vaccine research

by Viktor Bogatko - SGN Contributing Writer

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a $25 million grant to Oregon researchers developing a vaccine that has shown promise in preventing HIV infection in primates.

Among the largest philanthropic grants ever received by Oregon Health and Science University, it was awarded to a team of scientists at OHSU's Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute led by Louis Picker.

The grant follows research published by university scientists seeking to show their vaccine candidate halting the transmission of, or eliminating altogether, a form of the virus in about half of more than 100 monkeys tested.

'In effect, we helped better arm the hunters in the body to chase down and kill an elusive viral enemy,' lead researcher Picker wrote in the magazine Nature, which published lab results last year. 'And we're quite confident that this vaccine approach can work exactly the same way against HIV in humans.

'The focus of the grant will not be basic research but translational,' Picker said. 'It allows us to take the vaccine concept and do a clinical trial with the human equivalent of the vector we've been studying in nonhuman primates.'

Scientists at the university said they hope to develop a vaccine that not only prevents the HIV virus from infecting people exposed to it, but also eliminates the virus from those already infected.

The National Institutes of Health cited Picker's research among its 'promising medical advances' of 2013, the researchers said.

The grant will be used over the next five years to establish whether the vaccine can be used safely on humans in a clinical trial and to help researchers develop a version of the vaccine suitable for large-scale testing, which is required to bring it to market and will require at least a decade.

The annual number of new HIV infections has declined in recent years. However, according to the World Health Organization, more than 35 million people globally were living with HIV and an estimated 2.1 million people were newly infected with the virus that causes AIDS last year.

Although AIDS-related deaths have dropped in recent years due to antiretroviral drug therapy, some 1.5 million people still died from the disease last year, the organization said.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the annual rate of diagnosis with HIV in the United State fell by a third between 2002 and 2011.

The Foundation previously awarded Picker's team with an $8 million grant in January 2012. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to eradicate the world's most deadly diseases and poverty.

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