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EAVI2020 Partner-Focused Stories: IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute

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It’s time to take a look at one of EAVI2020’s partners, Fundació Privada Institut de Recerca de la Sida-Caixa (IrsiCaixa) situated in Barcelona, Spain. We had a quick chat with Dr Christian Brander leading the research at IrsiCaixa to learn more about the foundation and what they do.

Image: The Team from left: Sandra Silva Arrieta (Research fellow), Clara Duran (PhD student), Bruna Oriol (PhD student), Christian Brander (Investigator), Luis Romero (PhD student), Alex Olvera (Research fellow), Marta Ruiz-Riol (Research fellow), Miriam Roses (PhD student), Samandhy Cedeno (Research fellow), Tuixent Escriba (Technician), Anuska Llano (Research fellow), Beatrize Mothe (Investigator)

What is it like being part of this EU-funded project?

EAVI2020 is undoubtedly the most relevant and comprehensive ongoing EU research consortium tackling HIV vaccine development. The wide range of expertise in the project provides ample opportunity for collaboration and exploring novel concepts to achieve our ultimate goal of developing therapeutic and prophylactic HIV vaccines. [EAVI2020’s] consortium brings together many of the smartest and most enjoyable investigators in Europe from a number of overseas partner institution. Working in this consortium is great fun and a privilege.

How does IrsiCaixa connect with the HIV/AIDS community?

We have been working closely with at-risk populations and have been able to include many participants with existing HIV infection, highly exposed uninfected individuals, and individuals with a number of other co-infections into our studies. As well as basic and clinical studies including clinical trials, we have created the HIVACAT community advisory committee. This is a central group of community representatives that help us understand the needs and expectations of the community and in turn, allows us to conduct outreach work, training and dissemination of our scientific activities.

 Tell us about the IrsiCaixa’s greatest achievement. Is there a key moment in IrsiCaixa’s history?

IrsiCaixa has more than 25 years track record of basic and clinical investigation into HIV and AIDS. The IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute was created as a private non-profit foundation in 1995 with the support of “la Caixa” and the Ministry of Health of the Government of Catalonia.  Together with Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, IrsiCaixa is the main institution of the HIVACAT program; the Barcelona-based program for the development of an HIV vaccine. IrsiCaixa has been one of the most productive and successful HIV research institutions.  Its direct access to the HIV outpatient clinic located next door in the Foundation Fight against HIV is possibly one of the hallmarks and ensures close collaboration between scientist, doctors, and patients.

How did Irsicaixa get involved in EAVI2020?

IrsiCaixa was involved since 2009 in the EU-funded CUTHIVAC EU FP7 consortium, in which several of the partners in EAVI2020 already collaborated on the development of transcutaneous vaccine strategies.  Through these interactions, the idea was born to form a consortium to apply with the EAVI2020 project. 

What is IrsiCaixa’s role in EAVI2020?

IrsiCaixa is leading work packages related to T cell immunogen design and vaccine production. We are also heavily involved in the conduct of clinical trials, testing different prime-boost regimens (vaccine strategy) of EAVI2020´s different T cell immunogens.  Given that we had conducted some clinical trials in CUTHIVAC as well as, more recently, the Barcelona-based BCN01 and BCN02-Romi therapeutic vaccine clinical trials, we also had the opportunity to explore biomarkers (a characteristic of a biological process) of HIV control in this setting and thus contribute also to the work on biomarkers and assay refinement.

 How important is it for IrsiCaixa’s to participate in international collaborations such as EAVI2020?

Participation in EU consortia is critical for IrsiCaixa, given that national funding sources are scarce and very few national programs exist that are of sufficient duration to allow young scientist to start building their careers towards independent investigators.  EU consortia are also a great opportunity for PhD students to gain insights into other labs and groups across Europe. EAVI2020 has a particularly strong PhD training and exchange program from which all our PhD students in the groups have profited and continue to profit.

IRSICAIXA was founded in 1995 as a private non-profit foundation located in Barcelona, Spain. The institute has over 60 researchers who focus on basic research to understand HIV infection mechanisms and develop new therapies and vaccines. The foundation also participates in clinical studies to evaluate new therapeutic strategies and cooperates with low-income countries.

Role in EAVI2020

Irsicaixa will further the design of T cell immunogen sequences and test their in vivo immunogenicity in the context of multiple different vectors in animal models and human clinical trials with a special focus on therapeutic vaccine approaches.

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