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Archive: Feb 2020

  1. EAVI2020 Gets Clinical: The Mosaic Trial

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    Led by Professor Robin Shattock at Imperial College London, the mosaic trial is one of a series of clinical trials as part of the EAVI2020 clinical studies. It will test the immune response to the most vulnerable parts of the HIV virus using different combinations of synthetic HIV envelope proteins. We sit down with Dr Katrina Pollock, who is a senior clinician working on the mosaic trials at Imperial, to learn more about the trial and its intended research impact.

    Dr Pollock is a Senior Clinical Research Fellow in Vaccinology and Honorary Consultant at Imperial College London. She studied as an undergraduate in Medicine at Newnham College, University of Cambridge and Imperial College London, before qualifying as a junior doctor and undertaking specialist professional training in Genitourinary and HIV Medicine.

    Dr Pollock is the clinical Principal Investigator across the diverse portfolio of vaccine studies at the Imperial NIHR Clinical Research Facility.

    • If you were to explain the study’s aim to a person without any medical background, what would you say?

    HIV is a serious infection that has caused millions of deaths globally. The past thirty years have seen an incredible improvement in our ability to treat HIV. A normal life expectancy is now within reach for those people living with HIV who can access good medical care. Around the world many people still cannot easily access these treatments however. These people are amongst the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. There remains a real and urgent need for a vaccine that would prevent HIV infection to protect their health and to limit the spread of HIV. The goal of the Europe-wide initiative, EAVI2020 is to produce an effective vaccine against HIV. The Mosaic trial lead by Professor Robin Shattock, from the Department of Infectious Disease, Imperial College London, is one of a series of clinical trials testing early forms (prototypes) that could lead to a vaccine within the EAVI2020 initiative.

    • Can you briefly describe your role in the study?

    My role is to run the clinical trials in volunteers. This means testing whether the HIV-specific immunogens formulated through the work of EAVI2020 can be used safely in people and how good they are at producing an effective response. The clinical trials are the final stage in the development of rationally-designed immunogens that could be used in the development of a vaccine.  As part of a series of trials, the Mosaic trial will teach us how effective these immunogens are in producing a response that could protect against all strains of HIV infection. We couldn’t do this without the hard work and commitment of our volunteers and the team at the Imperial NIHR Clinical Research Facility, who are all fantastically dedicated.

    • What (if any) are the difficulties with carrying out the work?

    Producing a vaccine has been a major goal of HIV research since the beginning of the epidemic. Many people will be asking why it has been so difficult.  The reason is simple. Usually vaccines copy what comes naturally, they prevent infection by training the body how to respond before there is an infection. HIV is different because it’s able to hide from the body’s defences, so immune-based protection does not occur quickly enough. This makes it challenging to know exactly how to design the vaccine. As part of the work of EAVI2020, the Mosaic trial is the second in a series of clinical trials at Imperial College London which aim to help us find a solution. It will test whether we can induce an immune response to the most vulnerable parts of HIV using different combinations of HIV envelope proteins that have been made synthetically.

    image of a cytometer

    • What personally attracted you to be part of EAVI2020?

    As a doctor, I have been working with people living with HIV for 15 years. I’ve seen at first hand the devastation it can cause and been impressed at how this has turned around for so many people now we have good treatments. Globally, there are many who remain at risk from the most severe effects of HIV, particularly young people living where treatment options are limited. An effective vaccine remains a major frontier for HIV medicine; with this in our tool-kit there is a chance to end the epidemic once and for all. It will provide a new option for preventing HIV infection in addition to drug-interventions like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP). This will be of real and lasting benefit for global public health.

    • When this trial ends, what do you expect the outcomes to be? For example, scientific publications, lead to another trial, change in how it will reflect on vaccine development?

    This work is really exciting because we are using specially-designed immunogens that aim to overcome the most significant barriers to inducing HIV-specific immunity. Designed using advanced computer software and sophisticated chemistry, they mimic part of the HIV virus in a way that was not previously possible. Data from the Mosaic trial, combined with data from the other EAVI2020 clinical trials will be illuminating from several perspectives. It will indicate how immunity to HIV can be entrained. This will be of real interest to the community of doctors, nurses, scientists, activists and people living and working with HIV.

    • What will you be working on next?

    The next stage of this work will be a third clinical trial to test the immunogens designed as part of the EAVI2020 initiative.  My hope is that this work will open up the possibility of designing a truly effective vaccine to be tested in future trials.

     

  2. EAVI2020 Students in Focus: Athina Kilpeläinen (Karolinska Institutet, Sweden)

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    Throughout the past four years, the students of EAVI2020 have worked tirelessly in The Continuing Education & Training in HIV vaccine development programme. This is a work package of the EAVI2020 project dedicated to the employment and training of young scientists in Europe. It comprises of scientific fellowships, student exchange, wet workshops, and a PhD Programme to maximise the training of the next generation of young scientists in the field of vaccine development. It is now time we shine a positive spotlight on the students to hear from them about their experience in the programme, lessons learned and what they hope to achieve moving beyond EAVI2020s. ‘EAVI2020 Students in Focus’ will be a regular news feature so be sure to subscribe to the EAVI2020 newsletter to get the latest updates.  In this issue, we feature Yoann Aldon and Athina Kilpelïnen.

    Athina Kilpeläinen

    During the EAVI2020 training program I was given the chance to present my work orally and discuss my findings and conclusions with fellow students. This provided me with the opportunity to improve my presentation skills as well as receive valuable scientific input and advice. During the training program I have had the chance to partake in practical courses and learn new laboratory methods. These experiences have been highly fruitful and will be highly beneficial to my scientific career. This has been the most rewarding part, aside from the relationships I’ve been able to build thanks to the program. As an EAVI2020 PhD student, I was given the opportunity to move to Barcelona (Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR)) all the way from Stockholm (Karolinska Institutet). It has been a great experience overall, discovering a new culture, meeting new people and being welcomed into a new research laboratory. Furthermore, being a part of the consortium, I was able to expand my research network and build relationships with scientists at all stages in the field, aside from just PhD students. This will be a great benefit in the next stage of my scientific career as a postdoctoral researcher. I strongly recommend taking part in a PhD training course like the one arranged in the EAVI2020. My advice would be to not be afraid to ask questions or interact with fellow students.

    You can see Athina speak as a panellist in the EAVI2020 webinar titled, Developing an effective #HIV vaccine: what do we need and when will we get there?

  3. EAVI2020 Students in Focus: Yoann Aldon (Imperial College London UK)

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    Feature image by Nino Carè from Pixabay

    Throughout the past four years, the students of EAVI2020 have worked tirelessly in the Continuing Education & Training in HIV vaccine development programme. This is a work package of the EAVI2020 project dedicated to the employment and training of young scientists in Europe. It comprises of scientific fellowships, student exchange, wet workshops, and a PhD Programme to maximise the training of the next generation of young scientists in the field of vaccine development. It is now time we shine a positive spotlight on the students to hear from them about their experience in the programme, lessons learned and what they hope to achieve moving beyond EAVI2020s. ‘EAVI2020 Students in Focus’ will be a regular news feature so be sure to subscribe to the EAVI2020 newsletter to get the latest updates.  In this issue, we feature Yoann Aldon and Athina Kilpelïnen.

    Yoann Aldon

    Being involved in the EAVI2020 consortium as a PhD student was a very positive experience. Over the 4 years of my PhD in Prof Robin J. Shattock’s group at Imperial College, this remarkable H2020 European project set up biannual courses and promoted student mobility between research groups. In addition to being exposed to new techniques and knowledge, these courses as well as the annual meetings strengthened collaborations and bonds among students and collaborators across Europe. Throughout my PhD years I had the chance to be involved in several projects within the EAVI2020 and found that the consortium network was very supportive of students.

    It goes without saying that as students we felt privileged travelling to cities around the continent where we enjoyed visits and nights out together. Another appealing quality of this project was the academic background diversity of the students and researchers involved which created a favourable environment for solving scientific questions rapidly. In my opinion, the EAVI2020 consortium represents a great example of how the European Union is a leader in academic research and can foster successful and efficient public-private partnerships with vaccine products ready for clinical trials within a limited period of time. On a more personal level, I graduated last summer 2019 and I am proud to have been an EU-funded PhD student. I have now joined the group of one of the EAVI2020 partners in Amsterdam, Pr. Rogier W. Sanders, and started my post-doc this January 2020. I am grateful for the opportunities, courses and energy the EAVI2020 gave me and I can only wish that many more consortiums like this one will be funded by the EU.

  4. EAVI2020 9th PhD training course announced

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    Image by Michael Jarmoluk from Pixabay

    The 9th PhD course as part of this programme will take place in Amsterdam from 7-8 April 2020. Titled HIV antibody and glycoprotein engineering for therapeutics and vaccines, the course will be co-organised by EAVI2020 consortium members Dr Rogier Sanders and Dr Marit Gils alongside other collaborators of AMC’s Department of Medical Microbiology, Lab of Experimental Virology.

    Employment and training of young scientists in Europe are integral to the EAVI2020 project. Led by Prof Joan Joseph Munné from the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), EAVI2020 has a fellowships and exchange programme in vaccine development to support and advance the research skills of the next generation of young scientists. The programme comprises of a conference series, workshops, scientific exchanges and a series of courses for PhD students.

    To date, there have been 8 EAVI2020 PhD training courses hosted by EAVI2020’s various partners across Europe. The courses have focussed on clinical and laboratory-based training and have befitted Master students, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows from EAVI2020’s partner institutions. For a closer look at one of the PhD training courses, read about the 7th course titled From Lab to Clinic. This iteration was held in Vienna and hosted by the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.