The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is backing a three-year effort at Duke University to develop a vaccine to combat HIV.

The vaccine candidate mimics a virus particle.

If development is successful, the vaccine would be tested in humans, Duke said in an announcement made Monday. 

The grant is the latest in a series of fundings for HIV vaccine research at Duke, including a seven-year $139 million award from the National Institutes of health in 2012.

Progress is being made against HIV on multiple fronts, some with triangle connections:

  • ViiV, a joint venture of GSK and Pfizer, recently won FDA approval for a new AIDS treatment.
  • A “cocktail” of AIDS drugs cured a bady of AIDS earlier this year.
  • In August 2012, researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill reported that a Merck drug could lead to a cure for HIV.

Duke’s potential vaccine

The potential vaccine is based on work done to this point that focuses on an “over coat” of molecules that bind to certain antibodies and generate a longer immune response. 

“We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide the funding for this important next step of our research,” said principal investigator Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. “Our strategy is to develop vaccines that bind to neutralizing antibodies and avoid inducing less effective, non-neutralizing antibodies that are frequently seen in natural infections and with previous vaccine candidates. This funding will help speed our progress.”

The candidate is a man-made lipid called a liposome and mimics a virus particle.

“The synthetic virus-like particle will be made of lipids that are similar to those in the membrane of the virus itself, and will include a piece of the HIV outer envelope that binds to the sought-after neutralizing antibodies,” Duke explained in the announcement. 

The grant is for three years.

Duke hopes to begin a phase one trial involving humans.