DURHAM, N.C. — Argos Therapeutics’ efforts to develop an HIV vaccine based on an individual’s immune system, received a $21 million boost from the National Institutes of Health on Friday.

The NIH grant, which covers five years, is to be used to support Argos’ immunotherapy efforts.

Argos is seeking to develop vaccines based on dendritic cells that help a person’s immune system recognize, target and destroy the HIV virus. The program is personalized for each patient. Dendritic cells contain antigens, which stimulate the immune system.

Argos is also seeking to develop therapies for treatment of cancer.
“This substantial NIH award provides important validation of Argos’ pioneering approach to personalized immunotherapy, which may have strong applications not only for HIV, but also for cancer and other infectious diseases,” said Charles Nicolette, the principle investigator of the contract. He also is vice president of research and development at Argos.

“Our unique technology utilizes patient-specific HIV antigens, allowing immune targeting of all private mutations that differ from patient to patient,” he said. “This product candidate should induce immune responses perfectly matched to each individual’s unique viral profile.”

The contract is to help Argos determine to what degree the Argos HIV candidate produces an immune system response and also to help create even more potent candidates, Argos said. Funds will be used to help conduct a clinical trial.

Argos uses Ribonucleic acid, or RNA, to augment dendritic cells. The cells are encoded with an individual’s antigen properties.

“Research in RNA-loaded dendritic cell immunotherapies for HIV treatment may provide the next important and effective treatment option for infectious disease,” said Jeff Jacobson, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. He is the principle investigator for the clinical trial that Argos will conduct. “We are therefore eager to participate in Argos’ program and realize the promise of immunotherapy for HIV.”

Argos will retain commercial rights to any candidates the company develops.

Argos, which was founded in 1997, changed its name from Merix Bioscience in 2004.

Investors in Argos include The Aurora Funds and Intersouth Partners. The company raised $39.5 million in venture capital in 2001.

Argos: www.argostherapeutics.com