Flinn Scholars News

Biodesign Institute gets blockbuster AIDS grant


The Biodesign Institute at ASU has received a $7.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a plant-based, anti-AIDS drug that promises to be an effective therapy in the absence of a long-awaited AIDS vaccine.

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Arizona State University announced this week that its Biodesign Institute has received a $7.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a plant-based, anti-AIDS drug that would kill the virus and other sexually transmitted diseases on contact. Such plant-based microbicides promise to be an effective form of preventive drug therapy in the absence of an AIDS vaccine and amidst a surge in AIDS patients in the developing world.

The Biodesign Institute, created in 2002, will work on the grant alongside the University of Maryland's National Vaccine Testing Center in Baltimore and Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. of San Diego. These research teams will manipulate the tobacco plant genome in order to produce a protein with the power to kill multiple sexually transmitted diseases. They then plan to transfer that modified protein into a vaginal gel or tablet that women could use before intercourse to protect themselves from disease transmission.

In developing nations, where condom use is infrequent and a growing proportion of AIDS patients are female, such a gel or tablet-based application would afford women a greater degree of control over their sexual health. And that, said Charlie Arntzen in the Business Journal, is especially important in devising effective STD and AIDS therapies. Arntzen is the principal investigator on the grant and head of the Institute's Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology.

And there are additional reasons that researchers are optimistic about the efficacy of plant-based microbicide treatments.

"Many of the countries with significant HIV infection rates do not have sophisticated pharmaceutical production capabilities," Arntzen told the Business Journal. "We believe plant-based options will be easier and cheaper to produce."

The tobacco-based protein has been shown to kill herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, and hepatitis B, and may be an effective birth control method, as well.

For more information:

"ASU's Biodesign Institute given $7.4M grant to fight HIV/AIDS," Business Journal, 08/18/2004

"ASU gets $7.4 million AIDS grant," Arizona Republic, 08/17/2004