The Creative Approach of Michael Farzan, PhD to HIV/AIDS Vaccine

There are a lot of stakeholders in the research and results of HIV/AIDS vaccines. Scientists and pharmaceutical companies stand to profit from successful endeavors, and more importantly, thousands of people, including those in high-risk populations, can effectively prevent HIV infection. Recently, there has been one notable approach to HIV/AIDS vaccination that isn’t really a vaccination at all. Michael Farzan, PhD of Scripps Research Institute in Florida has been recognized for his work with gene therapies that render the HIV virus innocuous.

How Most Vaccines Work

Vaccines for most viruses involve injecting a subject with either live or dead virus DNA. The body recognizes the pathogen and develops antibodies to it, thereby protecting the body against future infection.

The usual approach to vaccination does not work well for HIV. There are so many variables to natural immunity, that no viral threshold is deemed safe for human exposure without risk of actual infection.

How Dr. Farzan’s Vaccine Alternative Works

For years, Dr. Farzan and his team have been working with gene therapies that interfere with the virus’s ability to replicate. The Florida-based team developed a drug called eCD4-Ig, which causes muscle cells to produce inhibitor proteins. These inhibitor proteins bind to receptor sites on the virus, essentially making it impossible for the virus to attach to a human cell. Without a host cell, the virus cannot replicate, so it simply floats—disarmed, in a sense—in the bloodstream.

Recognition for Dr. Farzan’s Work

Dr. Farzan’s work has received recognition and funding from a number of sources. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded close to $6 million in 2015. This year, Dr. Farzan was one of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)’s Avant Garde Award recipients, a prestigious recognition that comes with about $2.5 million in research funding over the next five years.

UNM Truman Health Services strives to stay on the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. We hope that new prevention innovations from this research will soon become available for our community.