New NIH Research Center Works to Speed Progress of Vaccines, Targeting HIV First
The Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center (VRC), a $34 million NIH research center developed to "streamline" vaccine research, production and marketing, has chosen HIV as its first "target," the Washington Post reports in a profile of the center. Opened last year on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., the VRC, with a budget of $40 million in 2002, is the first federally funded vaccine research facility of its kind. The center is entirely devoted to vaccine research and development and will even oversee some vaccine production instead of negotiating licensing partnerships with private drug companies, a process that can "tie up products for years," the Post reports. In conjunction with San Diego-based biotech firm Vical, the center is in the process of testing VRC-001-VP, a DNA-based HIV vaccine candidate. The vaccine, which uses genetically re-engineered pieces of HIV DNA, is being tested for safety in humans. Although the vaccine candidate is not expected to stop HIV on its own, scientists believe that in conjunction with an immunity boosting vaccine, which would boost white blood cell production to fight infection, the substance could "thwart" HIV. Researchers, who plan to test the vaccine in 21 volunteers, are also examining how fast the immune system responds to the vaccine. "The questions they are asking ... [including] the timing of the second and third doses, that's information that will be quickly incorporated into other studies," Barton Haynes, director of the Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University, said. The VRC eventually plans to develop and test vaccines for other diseases such as Ebola virus, malaria and tuberculosis, with as many as six vaccine trials running simultaneously once the center is fully operational (Squires, Washington Post, 10/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.