Alejandro Balazs Receives NIH Avant Garde Award for Innovative HIV and Substance Use Disorder Research

Date: May 28, 2024 By: Nick Kolev

Ragon faculty member Alejandro Balazs, PhD, has been awarded a prestigious Avant-Garde Award for HIV and Substance Use Disorder Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This award is part of the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award mechanism, which supports individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose high-impact research that will open new areas of HIV research and/or lead to new avenues for prevention and treatment of HIV among people who use drugs.

Balazs received this award for his project titled “Polyclonal Bi-Specific Vectored ImmunoTherapy to Functionally Cure HIV Infection,” which aims to create vectors capable of producing multi-specific polyclonal antibodies in vivo.

The project seeks to test whether engineered polyclonal immune responses will more effectively suppress HIV-1 infection than individual antibodies. Multiple vector designs will be compared to identify those with optimal activity both in cell culture and in vivo. The ultimate goal of the project is to achieve a functional cure for HIV infection in people with substance use disorders by resisting the emergence of escape mutants.

This project could have profound implications for treating HIV in the context of substance use disorder, offering improved therapeutic interventions for individuals who struggle with existing antiretroviral drug regimens.

The NIDA is the lead federal agency supporting scientific research on drug use and addiction. It is one of the 27 institutes comprising the NIH, the nation’s medical research agency.

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