Alumnus raises money for HIV vaccine research

As Director of Strategy at the Immunity Project, Ian Cinnamon ’10 raises money to fund research leading to a free preventative vaccine for HIV.

Cinnamon graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013 with a degree in Brain and Cognitive Science and moved to San Francisco. He now works for the Immunity Project, which aims to develop a vaccine that would prevent HIV.

“I spend most of my time dealing with the operations of the project,” Cinnamon said. “Everything from fundraising, signing the lease on our new lab space and following up with investors who are interested in our project.”

The Immunity Project’s plan is based on “controllers,” people born with a natural immunity to HIV. Researchers who analyzed controllers infected with HIV found that cells in their blood attack and weaken the HIV virus. They used those cells in the development of the vaccine.

“These targets have been formulated into the Flow Pharma vaccine candidate, which has the potential to turn HIV-uninfected individuals into HIV controllers,” the organization said in a description of its activities. “This would be truly game-changing in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

“It’s amazing to wake up everyday and know that I’m working to end the horrible HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Cinnamon said. “It’s wonderful to be able to work on something that has the potential to make such a large impact on the world.”

Last year, the team successfully tested the vaccine in mice, producing the desired immune response. The organization has submitted its research to scientific journals and is currently raising money to fund additional trials in mice via foundations, individual donations and government grants.

They hope to plan clinical trials with the Food and Drug Administration, the first phase of which could take several months, and then eventually expand clinical trials and fundraising to begin manufacturing. The vaccine will be distributed in the form of inert powder, delivered via nasal inhaler, which will avoid many of the temperature storage problems commonly experienced by other attempts at HIV vaccines.

Phase I and II testing should be done by 2016 or early 2017, and it “may be possible to start Phase III in late 2016 or early-mid 2017,” Dr. Reid Rubsamen, co-founder and CEO of the Immunity Project, said in a recent Reddit AMA about the vaccine. “Phase III could be completed in a high-infection rate place like Durban [South Africa] in two years. Best case scenario for approval in the US would be probably 2019-2020.”

“In terms of how it’s impacted my future, it’s definitely helped me realize how important it is to work on something that truly impacts people’s lives,” Cinnamon said. “I know that moving forward I’ll want all my endeavors to reinforce that concept.”

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