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Archive: Apr 2019

  1. From Lab to Clinic: 7th PhD training course in Vienna a success

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    Dr. Joan Joseph from Fundació Privada Clínic per a la Recerca Biomèdica (FCRB) and Prof. Brita Wahren from the Karolinska Institutet have recently returned from the hugely successful 7th PhD training course, “From Lab to Clinic”. It was held 7-10 April 2019 in Vienna and hosted by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Vienna) and Polymun Scientific GmbH (Klosterneuburg). The training course was part of the continuing education and training program in HIV vaccine design and development. The program has a focussed aim to improve and disseminate advanced research skills developed within EAVI2020.

    While mainly PhD students, the group also welcomed bachelor students, laboratory technicians, post-docs, and technical and faculty staff from Polymun and the department of Biotechnology of University of Life Sciences. This diversity brought many perspectives and expertise to the highly engaging discussions. Among many other topics, the group focussed on:

    • Vaccine production;
    • From University to Industry: successful start-ups;
    • GMP production of a vaccine candidate explained on the example of MSIP528; and
    • Initiating clinical trials: preparation of Investigator’s brochure, regulatory issues and clinical trial application

    Picture of the group in one of the sessions

    The group in one of the sessions

    A feature of the course involved four journal club sessions where the PhD students presented research data addressing several topics on HIV vaccine development and immunology. Tutors and organisers commented that they were overly impressed with the scientific level of presentations and quality of engagement. Joan went further to note “we could realise the training capacity-building achieved after three years of training activities and experimental work in progress, empowering the students in their scientific careers.”

    During the training course the team joined the EAVI2020 research call. They tuned in to the current stages of on-going clinical trials at Institut National de Santé et de Recherche Médicale (INSERN) and the design and start of the clinical trials headed by Robin Shattock at Imperial College London.

    Picture of the training course students listening in on a video call regarding EAVI2020 Picture of Prof. Robin Shattock giving his presentation during the EAVI2020 research call

    From left: Prof. Robin Shattock giving his presentation during the EAVI2020 research call and on the right, the training course students listening in.

    The group also had the opportunity to visit BOKU’s BioIndustrial Pilot Plant at the Department of Biotechnology. A multi-purpose plant for fermentation the plant is intended for research and development of a wide range of biotechnological processes.

    There was also a tour of the Polymun facility. Polymun is well known worldwide as having developed the first human monoclonal antibodies to neutralize HIV in the late 1980s and for its pioneering work in the field of influenza in the 1990s which involved the development of an influenza life nasal spray vaccine. (read article, 2013). During the tour, the team felt very honoured to share discussions with Prof. Hermann Katinger, Polymun Founder.

    Picture of outside the Polymun facility

    Outside the Polymun facility

    Overall, the course was a success.  Elie Richel said “The EAVI2020 PhD training course has been my first great opportunity to meet and have interesting discussions with other international PhD students working on the HIV vaccine field”. Chun-Wei Chen said “I was very happy to get involved…Especially, the course and facility tour offered by Polymun. [It] gave me a comprehensive understanding of vaccine-related products from lab to clinic and even industrial manufacturing”. Chun-Wei went on to note that the journal club session was a great opportunity to improve “my skills in presentation and asking questions”. The whole group were very grateful to Dr Dietmar Katinger and the BOKU and Polymun teams for co-organising.

    Picture of team at dinner enjoying traditional cuisine at Heuriger Ing. Werner Welser

    After an intense few days, the group relaxed and enjoyed traditional cuisine at Heuriger Ing. Werner Welser

    The course wrapped up with a social dinner at Heuriger Ing. Werner Welser with traditional Viennese/Austrian wines, dishes and desserts. Overall, the students had a very productive and useful training course along with a very enjoyable social outing.

  2. EAVI2020 Announces Start of New HIV Vaccine Trial

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    The European AIDS Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020) are getting closer to developing a protective vaccine against HIV with clinical trials now underway.


    Researchers are excited to announce they have started clinical trials to develop a protective vaccine against HIV. This is a huge milestone for the EAVI2020 project and is the first clinical trial to assess how different protein combinations influence the development of protective antibodies. The first dose was administered on March 28 at NIHR Imperial CRF, Hammersmith Hospital, London, with another 50 participants to take part over a 12-month period.

    This is the first clinical trial to assess how combinations of different native-like envelope proteins influence the development of protective antibodies. It involves developing a range of stabilised viral envelope proteins that can be studied in humans and represents the first in a series of five clinical studies to be conducted by EAVI2020. The trial is the result of a three-year effort bringing together leading HIV researchers from across Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA.

    This is the first clinical trial investigating different protein combinations and its influence on the development of protective antibodies. 

    Leading this ground-breaking project is Professor Robin Shattock from Imperial College London who celebrates this major milestone in the project – “we are excited to see the efforts of this pan-EU research network move forward to clinical testing. Cooperative research across the EU had been essential in reaching this goal in a short time-span. We anticipate that the current trial will provide important insight into the ultimate development of a protective vaccine against HIV”.

    The project is truly an international and collaborative effort with the EU partners drawing together vaccine design and production elements. Professor Rogier Sanders of the University of Amsterdam Academic Medical Center, has driven the protein design elements that have allowed the team to faithfully reproduce a stabilised structure of the viral envelope spike protein. “Within EAVI2020, we have developed an HIV vaccine discovery pipeline from computational design to first-in-human tests that will accelerate HIV vaccine selection and evaluation”, says Saunders. Professor Quentin Sattentau of the University of Oxford, who has applied additional modifications to the proteins to make them highly resistant to degradation in the body, notes that “this strategy to further stabilise the proteins is the result of a highly successful European collaboration, and has the potential to trigger enhanced anti-HIV antibody responses”. Dietmar Katinger, CEO of Polymun Scientific GmbH of Austria who are engineering the proteins says “the efficient cooperation between all partners is facilitating the production and characterisation of the different vaccine antigens and the liposomal adjuvant in clinical grade quality in a very short time-span”.

    This trial will inform the best pathways for developing protective antibody responses. While clinical trials are a major achievement there is still a lot of work ahead of the team. Professor Shattock says, “although the current trial may not give us the complete answer, we believe it will provide important insight into the pathway for developing protective antibody responses. Data from this study will inform follow-on clinical trials and contribute to global research on the development of protective vaccines.” Professor Shattock goes on to reiterate the importance of the EU collaborations that have built this project noting that “this has been an important pan-EU endeavour, while there is some uncertainty over the future role of the UK researchers in the context of Brexit, it will be important for us to retain collaborations with our EU partners in this critical area”.

    For more information about the study:
    Professor Robin Shattock

    This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 681137.