India is getting its first AIDS vaccine design lab at the government-run Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute in Gurgaon. The Rs 51-crore lab will work on developing a broad-spectrum vaccine capable of fighting different strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Jointly established, operated and funded through a public-private partnership between the Department of Biotechnology and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), this first-of-its-kind lab in South Asia will capitalise on recent advances in biomedical research around the world.
"For the first time in a decade, scientists have isolated as many as 14 broadly neutralising antibodies (bNAbs) against HIV, both at IAVI and the Vaccine Research Center of the US National Institutes of Health. Now, researchers are scrutinising the most promising of these antibodies to elucidate the specific mechanisms by which they bind to and neutralise HIV," said Rajat Goyal, IAV's country director for India.
"The idea is to create replicas of bNAb targets in the laboratory for use as immunogens, which are the active ingredients of vaccines that fight infection," said Goyal.
HIV's quicksilver ability to mutate has been a roadblock in global efforts to develop an effective vaccine against it.
HIV has infected 60 million and killed 30 million since it was first identified in 1981. Of the 33.3 million people infected in 2009, 2.4 million (24 lakh) live in India.
Children under 15 years account for 3.5% of infections, with the majority - 83% - of people infected being in the 15-49 age-group. Of the total infections, 39% - 9.3 lakh - are among women.
"The lab will focus on developing, testing and implementing strategies to rapidly screen large numbers of bNAb-based immunogens against HIV and to prioritise them for pre-clinical trials, not just in India but across the world," said Goyal.
Scientists in India hope the collateral benefits go beyond advancing the development of effective AIDS vaccines.
"The facility will give us an edge in translational research and help convert promising laboratory concepts into drugs and vaccines that are safe and effective," said a DST official, who did not want to be named.
Other institutions participating are Delhi-based International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.