Updated on 14 January 2014
Playing a responsible role
The Indian government on its part has been playing a very active role. Apart from health ministries, National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) that has been advocating on preventive measures and social awareness, the various other agencies from science and technology ministry have encouraged research in the area. The Pune based National AIDS Research Institute (NARI) funded by Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has progressively expanded its activities in various aspects of research on HIV and AIDS through infrastructural development, capacity building and research programs. Another big initiative is Gurgaon based, The Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Indian government's Department of Biotechnology (DBT) which will primarily focus on one of the greatest scientific challenges of AIDS vaccine design and development. In collaboration with the IAVI, the program is focused on the elicitation of antibodies capable of neutralizing a broad spectrum of circulating HIV variants, a problem that stems in large part from the almost unparalleled mutability of HIV.
The IAVI-THSTI collaborative program is participating in a much coordinated, global effort to create replicas of bNAb targets in the laboratory for use as immunogens, which are the active ingredients of vaccines. This program has been charged with the complex task of developing, testing and then implementing strategies to rapidly screen large numbers of bNAb-based immunogens against HIV-1 and to prioritize them for further evaluation in preclinical studies. It is expected that the program using high throughput (HT) screening will ultimately lead to strategies for next generation immunogen design and expand the number of AIDS vaccine candidates available for assessment in human trial.
Dr Rajat Goyal, country director - India, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), mentions that its aim was never the ownership. "We were happy when the government of India chipped in with the funding. Pushing the clinical research towards the drug development was our focus and the DBT with its work on research projects, Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) on clinical aspect and NACO on the epidemiological part have been key partners." He also feels great about the amount of funding from DBT and ICMR, having been scaled up in the recent years.
The THSTI-IAVI program is an integral part of the THSTI cluster of research centers. It will be linked closely to both the hub of the NAC, the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and to IAVI's AIDS Vaccine Design and Development Laboratory in New York. The work conducted also complements a current partnership IAVI has with the Indian Medicinal Chemistry Program (IMCP), under the auspices of the DBT, to design and generate conceptually novel HIV immunogens. Other institutions participating in this partnership include the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
According to Dr Sudhanshu Vrati, head, Vaccine & Infectious Disease Research Centre, and dean, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), other than funding that has come from IAVI, they have looked at the technical expertise. "We just completed phase III of rotavirus vaccine. The new opportunities in vaccines have arrived and increase in knowledge base. We look forward to applying the same in this case as well."