Cardozo | Thanos
Researchers are working to develop a combined cocaine and HIV vaccine based on a common protein scaffold shared by vaccines already in use.
Researchers will attempt to develop a vaccine that will address both the transmission of HIV and cocaine abuse. For the first time in history, there is solid evidence that a vaccine can protect against HIV infection and that another vaccine can protect a substance abuser from cocaine self-administration. By coincidence, the same protein scaffold might be able to elicit both HIV protective and cocaine protective antibodies. A vaccine that raises protective antibodies simultaneously to both cocaine and HIV could be a high-impact intervention in high-risk populations, such as substance abusers, that account for most of the transmission of HIV. Such a vaccine would be a precedent-setting molecular intervention at the intersection of HIV/AIDS and substance abuse, and may have a transformative effect on both fields.
Targeting the high-risk groups that are responsible for is a major challenge in biomedical research on HIV/AIDS. Substance abusers are one of the key high-risk groups, and, specifically, inner city crack cocaine users are three times more likely than non-users to be infected with HIV. Researchers hypothesize that such a vaccine may be feasible, because the first epitopes shown to protect against the acquisition of HIV have been identified by a consortium of scientists analyzing the results of the recent RV144 trial (Haynes et. al. NEJM 2012). Their analysis showed that the protective epitopes are located in the second variable loop (V2 loop) of the surface envelope glycoprotein of the HIV virus. Over the past few years, Thanos’ laboratory has developed a technology platform for eliciting specific antibody responses from variable loop epitopes, including the V2 loop. Based on these data, researchers plan to develop an immunogen capable of eliciting HIV-protective antibodies. The same scaffold protein used to elicit these antibodies in this work has been used successfully as a cocaine vaccine in a clinical trial. Thus, an advanced starting point is present to develop a combined cocaine and HIV vaccine.
New York University School of Medicine
(Peter) K. Thanos, PhD
Research Institute on Addictions