POP Biotechnologies awarded $599,897 NIH contract for HIV vaccine development
BUFFALO, N.Y. — POP Biotechnologies Inc. (POP BIO), a University at Buffalo spinoff, has 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 UB.
“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 UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.
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.
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.