Forbes Profiles HIV Co-Discoverer Robert Gallo’s Work on Vaccine ResearchRobert Gallo, one of the men responsible for the discovery of HIV and director of the Institute of Human Virology, is heading a team of vaccine researchers who hope to use high-speed Internet connections to stimulate research on a new HIV vaccine, Forbes magazine reports. Gallo's team has developed a prototype vaccine that targets gp120, a "constantly mutat[ing]" protein on the surface of HIV. Because the protein is constantly changing, antibodies have difficulty detecting and chasing after gp120. However, a small portion of gp120 that is "normally obscured by HIV's surface" does not mutate much and is exposed for about 30 minutes during the time the protein is connecting to CD4 T cells, the immune system cells HIV invades to replicate itself.
In the early 1990s, Anthony DeVico, a researcher at Gallo's institute, developed the idea of a vaccine consisting of gp120 "permanently fused" to a CD4 receptor. He theorized that the fused molecule would "prompt the immune system to create an army of antibodies motivated to sniff out and disable the virus" while it was "exposed" during that 30-minute period. Recent tests of the vaccine in macaque monkeys have demonstrated that the vaccine elicits a "potent" antibody response to a variety of HIV strains. "This is like nothing we've seen before. It has neutralized almost all the strains we have tested, and we have tested a lot," Gallo said. David Montefiori, an AIDS researcher at Duke University Medical Center who has evaluated antibody response to AIDS vaccines, called the prototype "the best I've seen."
Building a Technology Collaborative
To speed testing of the vaccine, Gallo has teamed with entrepreneur and cofounder of C-SPAN John Evans, in what is being called the Waterford Project. Evans plans to use Internet 2, a higher speed version of the Internet operating at 2.4 gigabits per second, to link Gallo's team with researchers at Harvard University and the University of California-San Francisco. The connections will allow researchers to share data as it comes in, aiding with collaboration. However, researchers were initially skeptical. "In research you plant a flag and defend your turf. We were not natural collaborators," Warner Greene, director of UCSF's Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, said, adding that the plan is the "most exciting enterprise" in which he has been involved. The group is now installing videoconferencing equipment, but the project may run into trouble financially. Evans gave $1.5 million of his own money toward the project's $14 million annual budget, but he hopes to raise the rest from telecommunications companies. Gallo's research is funded by the government, but the research, which is now focused on determining a "reliable production process" and proving the safety of the vaccine, will be aided if the other facilities can work together (Langreth, Forbes, 9/17).