Free HIV vaccine gets hackathon, SA help

A non-profit project to develop a vaccine for HIV has called for the help of geeks around the world, with clinical trials planned in SA later

By - January 21, 2014
Immunity Project logo on SA flag

Immunity Project, lead by the non-profit organisation Until There’s a Cure, is running a year-long “hackathon” with to help develop a free vaccine for HIV.

According to Immunity Project’s website, it has developed a prototype vaccine based on research conducted by Microsoft e-Science Research in partnership with the International HIV Adaptation Collaborative and the International HIV Controllers Study.

The first component of the research was data gathered in studying so-called HIV controllers, rare individuals that have a natural immunity to HIV.

The research revealed that HIV controllers have a unique ability to target cells infected with HIV.

Using similar machine learning algorithms as those used in spam detection, researchers at Microsoft’s eScience Research Group found the virus surface targets favoured by HIV controllers.

If proven effective, Immunity Project said its vaccine would work by giving recipients these same abilities as HIV controllers.

Furthermore, the vaccine would be delivered as a room temperature inert nasal powder, which Immunity Project says will simplify distribution and storage as it need not be refrigerated.

Immunity Project’s website goes on to say that preliminary research, including experiments conducted with over 400 mice, have shown positive results. Its research is awaiting publication in a peer reviewed journal, Immunity Project said.

The Hackathon

Asked about the purpose of the hackathon, Immunity Project co-founder Naveen Jain told MyBroadband that they want to engage the global developer community to help them find solutions to a number of problems.

These include challenges around core components of the vaccine, distribution, and challenges that exist with current HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention methodologies such as drug adherence, Jain said.

“We are very excited to be working with the incredible team at on the first ever global, year long hackathon,” Jain said.

The hackathon could use developers, designers, or entrepreneurs at any skill level, including those who want to become one, Jain said.

Jain said that the hackathon kicked off on 3 January 2014, but anyone can join at anytime.

“The commitment required is very light,” Jain said. “A small amount of time can make an enormous impact on helping us end HIV/AIDS.”

Clinical trials with SA help

The next step for the Immunity Project, Jain said, is its phase I clinical trial which is to be conducted in partnership with Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, director for CAPRISA in Durban.

“Assuming we are able to complete our fundraising by end of summer 2014, our plan will be to complete our phase I trial by summer of 2015,” Jain said.

If the trials are successful, they will immediately proceed with phase II trials, and thereafter conduct a larger phase III trial in South Africa starting in 2017 or 2018, Jain said.

CAPRISA involvement

“Our role in the project will come into play once the clinical batches of the vaccine material have been made and are ready for human research,” Karim told MyBroadband.

“Until then, we are working with others in the group monitoring progress and ensuring we are ready for the clinical studies when GCP lots of the vaccine are ready,” he said.

Those interested in participating can visit the Immunity Project hackathon page on

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