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€15.5 million EUROPRISE to drive novel approaches to HIV prevention

A €15.5 million grant from the European Commission awarded under the Sixth Framework Programme will bring together HIV/AIDS researchers at 32 institutions - including universities, governmental research institutes and pharmaceutical industries - in 10 countries to prevent the spread of the AIDS pandemic.

Professor Robin Shattock, of St George’s, University of London, who will coordinate the research network called “EUROPRISE”, said the award held out the promise of “the most important advance yet in scientific efforts at a European-wide level in HIV-1 prevention and represents another resounding endorsement of the high commitment to HIV/AIDS prevention research in Europe”.

The European HIV Enterprise (EUROPRISE) consortium will promote an integrated programme of research, coordinating a the European portfolio of activities, encompassing the whole pipeline of vaccine and microbicide development from early discovery through to early clinical trials for the next five years. Through their existing partners, the thirty-two funded institutions will bring in a wide network of 150 institutions from 22 countries to the consortium. This unique approach places the network at the international forefront of understanding the interface between these two technologies (microbicides and vaccines), pursuing a critical path to the development of effective HIV-1 prevention strategies.

The urgent need for HIV prevention

The UNAIDS/WHO estimates that at the end of 2004, forty million people globally were living with HIV, of which 610,000 were in Western Europe and 28.5 million were in Sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, there are 14,000 new HIV infections per day, 80% of which are now heterosexual, and 95% of which are in developing countries. In some countries, public health programmes encouraging the use of condoms have achieved modest results in reducing HIV infection rates but it is clear that other preventative strategies are needed. “Although therapeutics for HIV/AIDS continue to improve, ultimately the development of safe and effective strategies of blocking and preventing HIV transmission will be key to combating this pandemic”, says Professor Shattock.

Why Microbicides and Vaccines?

It is currently understood that conventional vaccine approaches fail to induce sufficient mucosal response and immunological memory to provide protection against the diversity of circulating HIV strains. In contrast, while it may be technically easier to develop microbicides (vaginal formulation, gels or creams) that prevent HIV transmission, their duration of protection is likely to be short lived and their efficacy will be critically dependent upon consistent use. In the past, both fields have been slow to work together in the development of products that provide multiple levels of protection. This network is focused on the premise that microbicides and vaccines that target multiple stages of mucosal transmission will have the best chance of success. Since both target the same processes there is clear overlap between the two fields.

What is the timescale and who is involved

St George’s, University of London was chosen to coordinate the consortium due to its expertise on HIV/AIDS research, together with the scientific coordination Hans Wigzell from the Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm) and Rino Rappuoli, the coordinator for HIV vaccines, from Novartis (Siena). In despite of the UK, Italy and Sweden, the other countries involved are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Russia and Spain.

This is a five-year project that will start on January 1st 2007 and is designed to take this approach into early human trials.

Andrea Vazquez | alfa
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