Scale project in the fight against AIDS

Project for the development of a vaccine against HIV

The HIVACAT AIDS vaccine research and development project is a joint private and public sector-funded consortium without precedent in Spain, placing our country to the fore of HIV and AIDS research internationally. Consisting of the two of most important and established AIDS research centres in the country, the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research at the Germans Trias I Pujol (Can Ruti) Hospital and the AIDS and Infectious Diseases Service at Barcelona’s Hospital Clìnic, HIVACAT carries out research into the development of a new vaccine against HIV in coordination with ESTEVE, and with the support of the “La Caixa” Foundation (Obra Social "la Caixa"), the Department of Health and the Department of Economy and Knowldege of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Catalonia’s autonomous government. This consortium is the first major attempt at establishing collaboration in this field between local government, researchers and companies.

Both research centres are conducting research alongside 5,000 patients who benefit from both the rapid incorporation of new treatments developed directly in the two centres, and innovations achieved internationally. HIVACAT consists of a team of more than 60 scientists trained in prestigious international research centres such as Harvard University in the United States, l’Insitut Pasteur in Paris, and London’s Royal Free Hospital.

In Spain, the project is co-directed by Dr Bonaventura Clotet from Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, and Dt Josep Maria Gatell from Barcelona’s Hospital Clìnic.  Also worthy of mention is the incorporation of researcher Christian Brander from Harvard University (Boston, USA), who has joined the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research as coordinator of HIVACAT, affiliated to the Catalan autonomous government’s research institute ICREA.

The scientific programme

The HIVACAT research project is structured around 8 areas of research focused on tackling the main obstacles in developing HIV vaccines, both preventative, to avoid HIV infection, and therapeutic, to stop the disease from developing.

On one hand, the research is centred on the description of markers related to the control of the infection, as well as the study of HIV diversity on the planet, and its effects on immune responses in the local population, and on the other the study of HIV entry mechanisms in target cells, and the development of new substances capable of inducing immune response (immunogens), that function as independently as possible of the genetic make-up of each individual. Finally, tests of candidate vaccines will be carried out as part of pilot clinical studies.

In the last few years, HIVACAT researchers have produced a number of therapeutic vaccine candidates which are currently at an advanced stage of development (clinical trials in phases I and II). However, the main objective in the next 4 years is to design new prophylactic and therapeutic vaccine candidates.

ESTEVE will intervene in the research process at the testing stage of the vaccine on people, taking over the subsequent clinical development and marketing of the product.

The afore-mentioned areas of research are reinforced by a transversal platform for the validation of experimental techniques between participating centres and also feature multiple collaborations between other national and international research groups in the context of a “global initiative” in order to find an effective vaccine. Researchers at these institutions are currently widening their activities to include more regions in the world, including clinics in South Africa, Central Africa and also Peru, where a number of studies have been in progress for several years.

The 8 areas of research are as follows:

  • Area 1: Immunity measured by immune system cells (cellular)
  • Area 2: Immunity measured by antibodies (humoral)
  • Area 3: Validation and standarization of immune response evaluation techniques (immunogenetics)
  • Area 4: Development of potential preventative vaccines.
  • Area 5: Development of therapeutic vaccines based on immune system cells known as dendritic cells.
  • Area 6: Studies into the progression of the infection (immunopathogenesis) and preliminary tests son animals.
  • Area 7: Platform for clinical trials in humans. 
  • Area 8: Identification and segmentation of patient groups (cohorts) at national and international level.