Public Release: 

With HIV rising, UMBI tailors vaccine for Nigeria

University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute

ABUJA, Nigeria-Research parasitologist Simon Agwale at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI), reported here today that he and colleagues have developed an experimental HIV-1 vaccine, tailored specifically to help fight AIDS in his native Nigeria.

According to the UNAIDS/World Health Organization, HIV infections have risen steeply in Nigeria in the past few years, posing a serious threat to the most populous country in Africa and where high costs make anti-HIV drugs largely unavailable to the general population.

Agwale reported that the research team at UMBI's Institute of Human Virology (IHV) has applied the latest IHV vaccine technology to build a "first generation Nigerian HIV-1 vaccine." The vaccine is made up of bits of the specific subtypes of HIV predominating Nigerian infections. He said the bits of HIV in the vaccine were identified by the first complete nationwide analysis of blood from HIV positive individuals in all 36 states of Nigeria, conducted in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga.

Agwale is currently a post-doctoral fellow the laboratory of David Hone, IHV associate professor. "I am in a position to help my nation with its growing AIDS problem. I have a lot of faith in this approach to developing a vaccine and now we have a plan to put it to use," said Agwale. The experimental Nigerian HIV-1 vaccine is now entering preclinical testing in laboratory animals. IHV has designed the vaccine to be taken orally, thus eliminating the need for maintaining sterile injection needles. Agwale announced the vaccine during a three-day National Workshop on HIV Vaccine Plan for Nigeria, sponsored by UNAIDS/WHO.

The candidate Nigerian HIV-1 vaccine is potentially applicable to all of Africa, said Agwale, because the IHV team has also included a piece of DNA from the C clade variation of HIV-1, which is rapidly becoming the predominant subtype of HIV-1 in many African countries. He said that technologies developed at the IHV to elicit high-potency antibodies to HIV have been introduced into HIV's Nigerian vaccine formulation. With these novel components, IHV anticipates that the vaccine will induce strong antiviral immunity to HIV.

Agwale, who was born and raised in Nassarawa State, Nigeria, conducted the vaccine studies in collaboration with David Hone and Marv Reitz, research professors at IHV, and Marcia Kalish, who is the Chief of the Viral Evolution and Transmission Section in the HIV and Retrovirology Branch, CDC.

"This is an example where an individual from a developing country played a lead role in a vaccine development program to solely target a public health crisis in that individual's country of origin," commented Hone. "Dr. Agwale will establish a new model for vaccine development that empowers individual countries to address their specific problems."

Aswale was recruited by Alash'le Abimiku, an IHV assistant professor from Nigeria, who has been instrumental in establishing a laboratory infrastructure for HIV in that country for sero-diagnosis and research, and in building in-country capacity for vaccine trials there. Agwale said he is also a lecturer at the University of Jos and a senior research fellow at the National Institute for Pharmacological Research in Abuja, Nigeria.

Abimiku said that the young average age of the Nigerian population "makes the country at high risk for HIV infections." There are 2.6 million infected and a half million children. The national infection average is 5.4. "But, in areas where the epidemic is most pronounced, you find that infection rates reach to ten to 20 percent," she said.

The IHV vaccine utilizes innovative vaccine technologies developed primarily in Hone's laboratory. (see news release "Trojan Horse..." at www.umbi.umd.edu.) Previous tests of the vaccine technology resulted in strong responses in both mucosal and systemic lymphoid immune systems, necessary for effective protection against sexually acquired HIV, said Hone. The technology also includes a special mucosal adjuvant (an agonist for antibody) that will help the vaccine prevent sexual transmission of HIV-1. More than 85% of all HIV infections in Africa are acquired through heterosexually transmission (UNAIDS/WHO).

Abimiku observed that the infrastructure in Nigeria is adequate to support successful HIV vaccine programs--advertisements, condom distribution, blood screening guidelines, integration of HIV programs in the schools, etc. But complex programs such as vaccine testing will require comprehensive planning and coordination.

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The Institute of Human Virology (IHV) was the fifth center of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute established in 1996 and is affiliated with University of Maryland Medicine. IHV's unique structure of bench-to-bedside research seeks to connect cohesive, multidisciplinary research and clinical programs so that new treatments are streamlined from discovery to patient.

CONTACT: Steve Berberich
UMBI Media Officer
301-738-6295 voice
301-742-5905 cell
301-506-2849 pager
berberic@umbi.umd.edu

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