A team of researchers from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s University, Belfast, is strengthening its role in the fight against HIV/AIDS by helping to pioneer a novel approach for the development and delivery of a vaccine for protection against the disease.

The team is developing a female-controlled vaginal HIV vaccine, which is designed to break the cycle of infection in an attempt to reign in the AIDS pandemic currently raging through the developing world.

The group has obtained a $2.3 million grant to support its work on the project, stemming from a $19.7 million fund awarded to St Georges Hospital Medical School in London from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust under the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative.

The consortium, which, in the next five years, aims to take HIV/AIDS vaccine formulations into initial clinical testing, will be led by Professor Woolfson and Dr Malcolm, well-known authorities on the design of controlled-release drug-delivery systems for vaginal application.

Such a controlled-release system would allow the vaccine to be continually delivered to vaginal tissue at a pre-determined rate over long periods of time, even up to a year in some cases.

Commenting on the project’s purpose, Professor Woolfson said: “Scientists in the international research consortium will design and engineer HIV-1 vaccines to specifically target and activate immune cells resident in the tissue lining the vagina, leading to a completely new concept where the vaccine is formulated as a needle-free topical or surface product rather than as an injection. It is hoped that continuous, controlled vaginal delivery of such a specially engineered vaccine, which has never been tried before, will provide immunity where it is most needed, at the site of viral entry, and in turn induce whole body immunity.”