Scripps Research is leading an effort to develop an HIV vaccination. Photo courtesy Scripps.

Scripps Research is leading an effort to develop an HIV vaccination. Photo courtesy Scripps.

An international partnership led by Scripps Research pulled in a $129 million grant to bring potential HIV vaccines into clinical testing.

The HIV virus is difficult to target and rapidly evolves, scuttling past attempts to develop a vaccine.

Scripps’ vaccine candidates are designed to induce the immune system to produce virus-blocking antibodies. Animal studies showed the vaccines protected against multiple HIV strains — an important factor because one person over the years can carry hundreds of thousands of variants, per Scripps.

The work can be traced to 2009, when Dennis Burton and others at Scripps Research discovered two antibodies in a woman living with HIV that were capable of neutralizing HIV strains.

This sparked the Scripps Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery, or CHAVD-ID, formed in 2012 with a $77 million award from the National Institutes of Health.

The same NIH division — the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases —provided the $129 million in funding to build on earlier work, it was announced July 10. The money also established partnerships under the Scripps Consortium for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Development, or CHAVD.

“Previous NIH support for this international collaboration allowed us to lay the scientific foundation for developing an unprecedented and highly promising approach to HIV vaccination,” said Burton, director of the Scripps CHAVD and co-chair of the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research.

“This new award provides critical funding to refine this approach and bring it into human clinical testing.”

Despite HIV medication and prevention measures, it’s estimated that 1.8 million people became infected with HIV in 2017 and 36.9 million people were living with it, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS.

Before moving into human testing, researchers will have to develop scalable manufacturing methods, among other hurdles.

Over seven years the $129 million will fund eight principal investigators at Scripps Research and 18 principal investigators at 13 other CHAVD-affiliated scientific organizations.