Research News

POP Biotechnologies awarded $600,000 NIH contract for HIV vaccine development

UB spinoff POP Biotechnologies’ vaccine delivery platform consists of specialized liposomes that bind to vaccine antigens. Transmission electron microscopy images show some of these liposomes with and without antigens attached. Photo: Jonathan Lovell


Published October 29, 2019

“We believe that the use of our technology, which spontaneously converts high-quality HIV-derived proteins into virus-resembling particles, could significantly boost vaccine efficacy, ”
Jonathan Lovell, associate professor
Department of Biomedical Engineering

POP Biotechnologies Inc. (POP BIO), a UB spinoff, has received a $600,000 contract from the National Institutes of Health to pursue development of a life-saving, life-changing technology: a vaccine against HIV.

The funding is a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH.

The contract supports a collaboration between POP BIO and Scripps Research, with the goal of using POP BIO’s next-generation vaccine delivery platform to enhance the performance of vaccine antigens developed by scientists at Scripps Research. The delivery platform, a liposome-based vaccine adjuvant, leverages technology that POP BIO has licensed from UB.

“We are combining two cutting-edge technologies to create a vaccine against HIV,” says Jonathan Smyth, president of POP BIO. “POP BIO’s vaccine delivery system is a highly efficient platform for binding and delivering antigens, resulting in a robust and lasting immune response.”

“We believe that the use of our technology, which spontaneously converts high-quality HIV-derived proteins into virus-resembling particles, could significantly boost vaccine efficacy,” says Jonathan Lovell, PhD, POP BIO co-founder and an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

Novel technology for combatting global problem

HIV is a global problem. Though antiretroviral medicines can help to both prevent and suppress HIV, about 1.4 to 2.3 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV in 2018, bringing the total number of people living with the virus to 32.7 to 44 million, according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the United States, about 38,700 people were newly infected with HIV in 2016.

The continued infections highlight the urgency of creating a vaccine.

POP BIO’s vaccine delivery platform is called SNAP (Spontaneous Nanoliposome Antigen Particleization). SNAP consists of specialized liposomes, originally developed in Lovell’s UB lab, that bind to and improve the effectiveness of vaccine antigens — molecules that prompt the body to produce antibodies that neutralize disease.

In the NIH-funded project, POP BIO will partner with Richard Wyatt’s group at Scripps Research to combine SNAP liposomes with leading HIV vaccine antigens developed by Wyatt’s team. Then, scientists will test the effectiveness of the new vaccine in inducing an immune response in animals.

Wyatt, is a professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research, and director of viral immunology for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s Neutralizing Antibody Center, headquartered at Scripps Research.

Two researchers in a laboratory examining data on a computer screen.

UB researcher Jonathan Lovell (right) and PhD graduate Kevin Carter are among the co-founders of Pop Biotechnologies. Photo: Douglas Levere

A biotech company with university roots

POP BIO was established with the mission of using innovative liposomal nanomedical platforms to create solutions addressing unmet medical needs.

In addition to its vaccine delivery platform, POP BIO is working to commercialize a light-targeted chemotherapy drug delivery system, also developed in Lovell’s lab, that kills cancer cells while limiting harm to surrounding tissues.

POP BIO has strong ties to UB, going back to the company’s formation. Founders include Lovell; Smyth, a UB School of Law graduate; and Kevin Carter, a UB PhD graduate in biomedical engineering who was a member of Lovell’s lab at UB.

In 2015, the company won the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition, which was created by the UB School of Management and the UB Office of Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships. POP BIO also attracted the interest of America Online co-founder Steve Case, who along with local investors awarded POP BIO $100,000 during Case’s Rise of the Rest business plan contest.

Today, the company has several employees, as well as research agreements with clients including international pharmaceutical companies.