POP Biotechnologies awarded $599,897 NIH contract for HIV vaccine development in collaboration with Scripps Research

BUFFALO, N.Y. — POP Biotechnologies Inc. (POP BIO) received a $599,897, two-year Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) under Contract No. 75N93019C00011, supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to pursue development of a potentially life-saving, life-changing technology: a vaccine candidate against HIV.

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 the State University of New York Research Foundation (SUNY-RF).

“We are combining two cutting-edge technologies to develop an experimental 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, which may result 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 University at Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at University at Buffalo.

A novel technology for meeting a global challenge

HIV is a global challenge. Though antiretroviral medicines can help to both prevent and suppress HIV, about 1.4 to 2.3 million people worldwide acquired 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 estimate that in the United States, about 38,700 people acquired HIV in 2016.

The continued transmission of HIV highlights the urgent need for a safe and effective preventative HIV 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 efficacy 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, PhD, 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.