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Basic Vaccine Discovery

A vaccine works by presenting pieces of the virus or bacteria (also called immunogens or antigens) to the body's immune system, causing an immune reaction. This “primes” the immune system so that when it is exposed to the real pathogen, the body’s immune system can aggressively attack the virus or bacteria since it will already have seen pieces of it in the vaccine. 

While we have been able to make vaccines for some of the world’s deadliest diseases, we have not been able to find one for HIV due to a number of scientific challenges. One reason is that scientists still do not know what type of immune response is needed to prevent HIV infection and control HIV replication. Scientists have, however, begun to shed light on this by analyzing data from an HIV vaccine trial conducted in Thailand (RV144) that showed modest success in preventing HIV infection. These analyses are providing some hint as to what type of immune responses may be needed and will help inform future clinical trial design. Research focused on basic vaccine discovery, particularly the interaction between HIV and the human immune system, will also help address many of these unanswered questions and can provide insight for the design and development of new and more effective vaccine candidates.

Having renewed and expanded its support of innovative basic vaccine discovery research since the NIAID Summit on Vaccine Research and Development held in 2008, NIAID remains committed to developing vaccines candidates. NIAID is particularly interested in pursuing four key areas of basic vaccine discovery:

  1. B cell immunology
  2. Systems biology analysis of early immune responses to HIV/SIV
  3. Immune defense mechanisms at mucosal surfaces
  4. Strengthen bridges between non-human primate research and clinical research

In addition, NIAID conducts and supports research to enhance the vaccine’s immune response. The areas of investigation include

  • Addition of adjuvants that enhance the immune response to the vaccine
  • Route and method of delivery of the vaccine
  • Dose of the vaccine, the number of immunizations, and the timing between them

In addition to ongoing programs, such as the HIV Vaccine Research and Design (HIVRAD), which advances concepts further towards the development of a preventive AIDS vaccine, two recently funded programs that reflect NIAID’s commitment to basic vaccine research:  the Centers for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID) and the Innovative HIV Vaccine Discovery (IHVD). CHAVI-ID is a large multi-component research consortia funded to accelerate HIV vaccine development. These consortia will conduct basic research on how HIV infection might be prevented to rapidly translate new knowledge into truly novel immunization approaches that will induce broad protection. They will then conduct proof-of-concept studies in nonhuman primates of their novel vaccine candidates before preparing them for human clinical trials in collaboration with the NIAID-funded HIV Vaccine Trials Network and other NIAID-allied groups.

The IHVD supports innovative research that may lead to the discovery, design, and development of an effective vaccine against HIV. The 14 grantees funded through this program in fiscal year 2012 will address topics critical for the development of an efficacious vaccine, including methods to induce HIV-specific mucosal immunity, optimization of immunogens that target HIV envelope, methods to optimize antiviral T-cell and NK cell activity, and studies to determine the mechanism of protection of an efficacious vaccine in the nonhuman primate model.

Last Updated July 26, 2012

Last Reviewed July 26, 2012