Chemical/pharmaceutical ESTEVE group signs partnership agreement with IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute, allowing ESTEVE to join research project. Partnership has been driven by Obra Social “La Caixa” and the Generalitat de Catalunya health department.
This initiative, first of this kind in Spain, situates the Iberian Peninsula among the International research frontline, and sees the daylight thanks to 2 prestigious AIDS research centers: the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute, located at “Germans Trias i Pujol” Hospital, and AIDS & Infectious Diseases Research Centre at Barcelona’s Clinic Hospital.
During the last 25 years many significant advances on HIV control have raised up thanks to antiviral treatments. However, these drugs don’t actually eradicate the infection; they are also extremely expensive and side effects after its consumption are usual. Moreover, they’re not easily accessible to millions of people around the world.
Nowadays’ main scientific and social challenge is the development of a HIV vaccine. The HIVACAT (Catalan Centre for HIV vaccine) Project for AIDS Research and Development is funded by Spanish bank Obra Social La Caixa, with an investment of 1.4 million euros on this project. Among other institutions that have provided financial support, there are: the Health and Innovation Department, Universities and Companies Department of Generalitat de Catalunya (Catalan Autonomic Government) as well as the Fundació Clínic, with an investment of € 400.000 each.
The project has been given an extra boost with this new agreement between ESTEVE and the AIDS Research Institute IrsiCaixa, and the 6 million euro investment that the group will bear during next 4 years. ESTEVE’s involvement in the research process will start soon as vaccine trial phase has been reached, taking care of the post-trial development up until its commercialization. The agreement is to be a pioneering partnership in this field between authorities, researchers, companies and banks.
HIVACAT brings a change of pace to the AIDS vaccine research process that has been carried out up until now. Up to date efforts have been exclusively focused on inducing cellular immunity; in other words, there hasn’t been a focus on generating antibodies in order to block the virus, a lack which has proven not to be enough for HIV virus neutralization.
HIVACAT research project focuses on “developing new vaccines that work in two different ways, therefore producing two types of immunological solutions. Firstly by generating antibodies that block and prevent the virus, and secondly by generating what’s known as a cellular the cytotoxic solution, where certain cells of the immune system recognise HIV infected cells and get rid of them”, explain Dr. Bonaventura Clotet, General Director of AIDS Research Institute IrsiCaixa and Head of the HIV unit at the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital in Badalona, and Dr. José M. Gatell, General Director of the AIDS & Infectious Diseases Department at the Clínic Hospital in Barcelona.
HIVACAT is currently looking for individual safety and effectiveness aspects of several viral components purified in the lab that allow neutralizing antibodies and cytoxic solution to be activated. Once the elements that stimulate a suitable level of immunity, to generate each one of these solutions, have been identified they can be combined in such a way so the join effect gives a certain level of protection against HIV.
“Let’s say that, in about 4 years, the best vaccine candidates could be tried out on humans. And if it’s proven to be effective, in some 10 years time the vaccine could be put on the market, which would be a decisive step forward in the fight against this awful disease”, highlights HIVACAT Coordinator, Dr. Christian Brander, who left his job as a researcher at the University of Harvard in order to join the project.
A pioneer partnership between authorities, Universities and companies
One of the agreements’ main advantages is that “with ESTEVE’s involvement and commitment to the HIVACAT research project, they will be able to gain speed and efficiency in the development of new treatments and assure once research results have been obtained they are quickly developed up to the production stage of the new HIV vaccine”, says Antoni Esteve, ESTEVE’s General Director, who adds “partnership between public and private research’s main goal is to develop an AIDS vaccine that reaches any needed person”. The incorporation of the group to the HIVACAT Project will place ESTEVE on the frontline for International AIDS research and, at the same time, fill a relevant position as a committed and socially responsible company.
The following phases to overcome are also pretty straightforward. The more than 40 researchers that work at HIVACAT are to carry out a series of clinical trials aimed at developing the vaccine treatment that stops the progression of the virus in those already infected, and a preventive vaccine to prevent the infection in case of possible exposure to HIV. The challenge is huge, although the vaccine will be only partially active, it could help to considerably reduce numbers of infections linked to HIV.
Currently more than 33 million people around the world have HIV. According to the WHO, every year there are 2.5 million new cases, affecting mostly 35-45 year olds.
This last statistic, 2 million, corresponds to the amount of deaths worldwide due to AIDS in 2007. In Spain, since the start of the epidemic, a total of 74,885 AIDS cases have been reported (1,464 in 2007) and today Spain continues to have some of the highest numbers of AIDS cases in the whole of Europe.
ESTEVE’s bet for vaccines
One of ESTEVE’s core values is the development of innovative products and services. Although their own area of research focuses on the R&D of new molecules in the field of painkillers, the group’s bet on innovation is carried out via other activities. This way, ESTEVE has opened up its area of activities to preventive medicines, specifically in vaccines. Every day there are more and more diseases that could be prevented thanks to vaccines, and that is exactly why this field offers many an opportunity in terms of research. ESTEVE aims to play an important role in that research.
ESTEVE’s presence in the vaccine development area has become accessible in some part, via the commercialization (in 2000) of a wide portfolio of flu and meningitis jabs amongst others; and now, through the AIDS research project, the vaccine against AIDS. The company isn’t ruling out other possible ways of growth in this segment, which could involve either taking part in other D&R projects or, at some point in the future, production activities.
This new project is the result of both Esteve’s social responsibility commitment as well as researching vocation.
IrsiCaixa & AIDS research
AIDS Research Institute IrsiCaixa is a leading institution and reference point in Catalonia for the research and treatment of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The centre is located in the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital in Badalona (Barcelona). In 1995 it was founded as a non profit organization thanks to the Fundació La Caixa Foundation who had confidence in the institution, as well as the Health Department of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia.
Their objectives are to carry out, drive and increase medical research in health sciences and epidemiology, primarily AIDS and its causal factor, HIV. To do so they have developed scientific lines of research including molecular and cellular biology, in both their basic and applied aspects, and clinical retrovirology studies.
AIDS Research Institute IrsiCaixa is managed by Dr. Bonaventura Clotet. Its team of 50 researchers is committed to analyzing the correlation between the virus and the immune system, therefore aiming to reveal and understand the virus’ destruction mechanisms on the immune system, obtain a solution for HIV, and discover the antiretroviral drugs action mechanism.