There appears to be no limit to innovative ideas at the EpiVax biotechnology company. In fact, the GAIA Vaccine Foundation is one of the earliest “spin outs” of EpiVax technology. Rather than move away from its parent company, the foundation is nestled safely in the same building, keeping costs low while pursuing its mission to “promote the development of a globally relevant, globally accessible, HIV / AIDS Vaccine” in Mali, West Africa and other locations around the world. The organization was founded by EpiVax CEO Annie De Groot M.D. and CIO Bill Martin in 2002, and, with the able assistance of a notable board, has been working on preventing HIV through education, distribution of means of prevention, improving access to care, and vaccine research ever since.
EpiVax and GAIA share a common goal: the development of the GAIA HIV / AIDS vaccine. That vaccine, as described in early publications, and validated in more recent studies is based on the idea that a vaccine composed of pieces of HIV that cannot change over time might be the best vaccine for all countries, and all stages, of the epidemic. Furthermore, a vaccine composed of pieces of HIV that are highly immunogenic, as predicted by EpiVax tools, and validated using cutting edge methodologies (HLA binding assays and ELISpot T cell assays), might protect against all strains of HIV virus – a truly “global” vaccine. And finally, EpiVax founders Annie De Groot and Bill Martin declared that the end product of the GAIA HIV / AIDS Vaccine effort would be ‘not for profit’ meaning accessible to those at highest risk of acquiring HIV infection, in developing world countries.
The GAIA HIV / AIDS Vaccine effort began with a small amount of seed funding to EpiVax from the Slater Biotechnology Fund, followed by an NIH Phase I SBIR grant, followed by a $2.2M grant to Dr. Annie De Groot in 2002, and continues today under R21 funding for the development of a delivery vehicle for the vaccine. The effort has garnered EpiVax numerous awards, including “most socially concious company” (City of Providence) and “Best and the Brightest” award (Esquire Magazine). The “globally relevant, globally accessible” GAIA HIV vaccine is projected to be ready for delivery “in one to five years, depending on the amount of funding that is available to support development” says De Groot, when she is asked.
The GAIA Vaccine Foundation works on a range of projects, including HIV peer education, TB prevention, and has provided opportunities for young persons, interested in developng world health, to contribute to HIV prevention first hand. Indeed, as is often the case with great new ideas, the world has to catch up to this one, before it is allowed to realize its full potential.