Y Combinator-backed Immunity Project has set out on quite a lofty mission.
It wants to create a preventative HIV/AIDS vaccine and give it to people for free.
One out of 300 people living with HIV are HIV controllers, meaning they have a natural immunity to the disease.
The Immunity Project’s goal is to create a vaccine that will make anyone a controller. Another key component of the vaccine is that it doesn’t have to be refrigerated, which will be helpful in distributing the vaccine throughout the world.
Just last week, it completed its $US482,000 crowdfunding effort and is now focused on executing experiments. But some scientists have been quick to question the tactics behind the Immunity Project’s campaign, citing concerns using crowdfunding for medical research.
“HIV/AIDS is something we need to address with utmost urgency,” Immunity Project co-founder Naveen Jain tells Business Insider. “Crowdfunding requires transparency, requires ongoing discussion, and obviously enables you to move very quickly, which we think is important.”
The majority of science endeavours, Jain says, go unfunded because there’s just not enough grant money out there and he says that’s fundamentally wrong.
“We’re not saying that we’re guaranteeing results or predicting success,” Jain says. “This is a public discussion about ending HIV and AIDS. Not everything needs to happen in the ivory tower or in a lab.”
But that’s not to say that the Immunity Project will never work with pharmaceutical companies and universities. The Immunity Project team, Jain says, is very open to collaborating with other people.
“The way the current system works in terms of scientific discovery, experimentation, drug development, etc, it’s not the only way to do things,” Jain says. “There’s nothing wrong with it. But we’re just saying that we think there are other ways to approach this, especially when you’re addressing infectious diseases like HIV, which adversely impacts certain populations, like Africa and Haiti. It’s really hard to sell drugs to folks who can’t afford to feed themselves. We’re here to try to solve an actual problem. The actual road we get there is not defined every step of the way. We’re just trying to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. All of these other things are just steps along the way.”
Assuming there are not too many bumps in the road, the Immunity Project hopes to release its vaccine in 2016. The next step after this final experiment is actually testing the vaccine on humans for the first time. Its Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials are expected to cost $US25 million each.
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