SEATTLE — Feb. 9, 2017 — HIV/AIDS researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are pioneering efforts across disciplines to advance preventative and curative approaches against the disease. In advance of the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, an annual meeting of international experts in basic, translational and clinical research hosted in Seattle this year, the following is a selection of research developments and HIV/AIDS experts and researchers at Fred Hutch:
Fred Hutch’s Dr. Jesse Bloom and his team have made an important step toward better understanding the human immunodeficiency virus and its rapid evolution that allows it to evade treatment. They created an extensive library of genetically mutated HIV viruses that includes all the approximately 13,000 single mutations in HIV’s envelope protein, which allows the virus to bind to cells. They then used that library to see how each mutation affects the virus’ ability to infect human T cells in the lab. The report published in PLOS Pathogens identifies regions of the envelope protein that do not change, pointing to parts of the virus that may not be able to mutate away from an immune response elicited by vaccines.
An immunology laboratory in Cape Town, which Fred Hutch opened four years ago, is serving as an anchor of two clinical trials launched last year under the direction of the HVTN, or HIV Vaccine Trial Networks. One is testing an experimental HIV vaccine in 5,400 healthy men and women at risk of HIV infection in South Africa. Results are expected in late 2020 and could lead to the first licensed HIV vaccine. The other trial is studying whether a direct infusion of a broadly neutralizing antibody — an approach known as antibody-mediated prevention, or AMP — can prevent HIV infection and eventually lead to a better vaccine. Staffed by scientists from Africa and directed by Dr. Erica Andersen-Nissen, the 10,000 square-foot lab is one of the most advanced in South Africa. HVTN is headquartered at Fred Hutch.
Dr. Larry Corey, a leading HIV researcher at Fred Hutch, received a $2.6 million grant from Gilead Sciences Inc. to investigate whether cancer immunotherapy could be adapted to cure HIV. Fred Hutch has been at the forefront of genetically modifying cancer patients’ immune cells so that they target and kill cancer cells. Corey will explore the effectiveness of using a particular type of immunotherapy that uses CAR T cells to target HIV.
Dr. Jennifer Adair, the assistant member in the Clinical Research Division, is working on “gene therapy in a box” to deliver potential HIV (and cancer and other cures) to low-resource countries that lack high-tech infrastructure.
Dr. Michele Andrasik, a senior staff scientist in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division and lead behavioral scientist for HIV Vaccine Trials Network, bridges social and biomedical sciences to engage communities in HIV research. Her work addresses health disparities in HIV prevention and treatment, particularly among African-American, foreign-born black, transgender, and men who have sex with men (MSM) communities.
Dr. Elizabeth Brown, member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease and Public Health Sciences Division and the principal investigator of the Microbicide Trials Network’s Statistical and Data Management Center, uses statistical analysis to understand the effectiveness of HIV prevention methods, such as the vaginal ring and antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Dr. Deborah Donnell, associate member in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease and the Public Health Sciences Divisions and head biostatistician for the HIV Prevention Trials Network, is an expert on designing clinical trials, one of which is currently testing a long-acting, injectable form of PrEP. Donnell will be speaking about Prevention Trial Design in the Era of PrEP at the pre-CROI workshop for new investigators on Mon., Feb. 13, 2017.
Dr. Julie McElrath is a senior vice president and director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division. Her research focuses on infectious diseases and human immunology, shedding light on ways to protect against pathogens and improve outcomes for people with chronic infections and cancer.
Dr. Michael Emerman, member of the Basic Sciences and Human Biology Divisions, leads work on HIV evolution, studying regulatory and structural HIV genes and advancing understanding of the disease at a molecular level. By identifying and characterizing host cell functions that are used to serve specific functions for viral replication, Emerman’s research sheds light on the evolution and function of host defenses against retroviruses such a HIV.
Dr. Nicole Frahm, associate member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, investigates cellular mechanisms for control of HIV replication and cellular immune responses in HIV vaccine recipients.
Dr. Peter Gilbert, principal investigator of the Statistical Data Management Center for the HVTN and member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease and Public Health Sciences Divisions, and Dr. Raphael Gottardo, member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease and Public Health Sciences Divisions, lead bioinformatics and computational immunology to inform the design and analysis of HIV vaccines.
Dr. Keith Jerome, member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutch, and Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, director of the Cell and Gene Therapy Program in the Clinical Research Division, lead defeatHIV which is a consortium of research groups collaborating toward the ultimate goal of an HIV cure. In 2016 the Fred Hutch team received a second five-year round of NIH funding to explore cell and genome engineering and immunotherapy approaches for an HIV cure.
Dr. James Kublin is executive director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, the world’s largest publicly funded multidisciplinary international collaboration for developing HIV/AIDS vaccines. His expertise spans vaccine and drug development against infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis to the role that the body’s microbiome plays in the immune system.
Michael Louella coordinates the defeatHIV Community Advisory Board, a role in which he’s responsible for reaching out and engaging communities most affected by HIV/AIDS in the studies led by the research team. Louella also serves as outreach coordinator for the University of Washington AIDS Clinical Trials Unit and community liaison for the UW Center for AIDS Research.
Dr. Julie Overbaugh, member of the Human Biology and Public Health Sciences Divisions, served as Chair of CROI 2016 and Vice Chair 2012-2015, and she is presently on the Board of Directors of CROI. Her work focuses on the dynamic interactions between HIV and the host immune system that contribute to virus spread and disease. She has worked closely with researchers in Kenya for the past 25 years to define the factors that increase HIV risk in the most vulnerable populations, including infants. She also is defining the mechanisms that lead to protective immune responses to HIV in order to inform vaccine design and prevention efforts.
Dr. Leo Stamatatos, member of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, works on identifying immunological pathways that lead to the development of broadly neutralizing HIV-1 antibodies during infection and exploits these pathways for vaccine-related purposes. His group received funding from the NIAID for the manufacturing and clinical evaluation of a vaccine designed to elicit broadly neutralizing HIV-1 antibodies; the first Fred Hutch-developed HIV vaccine candidate.