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MHRP Scientist Wins 2012 NIDA Avant-Garde Award for Combination Anti-Heroin/HIV Vaccine

July 25, 2012
Dr. Gary Matyas will receive $1,000,000 per year for five years to support his research on a vaccine that could treat heroin addiction while at the same time prevent HIV infection in those receiving the vaccine.

Dr. Gary R. Matyas has been selected the 2012 recipient of the NIDA Avant-Garde Award for Medications Development. Matyas proposes to develop an effective, safe and easily manufactured combination anti-heroin/HIV vaccine that could treat heroin addiction while at the same time prevent HIV infection in those receiving the vaccine. Matyas will receive $1,000,000 per year for five years to support his research. Dr Gary 7-25-12.pngHe works at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Silver Spring, M.d. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, announced the award today.

“This highly innovative dual-vaccine model would simultaneously address the intertwined epidemics of heroin abuse and HIV,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow.  “This is precisely the type of ground-breaking research NIDA’s Avant-Garde program was designed to support.  The implications for public health are enormous.” 

The proposal stems from an existing research collaboration between NIDA and the U.S. Military HIV Research Program, part of the WRAIR. In 2010, the two organizations entered into an agreement to create a combination anti-heroin/HIV vaccine.  The goal was to build upon previous preclinical research indicating that hapten-based anti-drug vaccines—in which a small molecule chemically similar to a drug of abuse (hapten) is bound to a protein carrier to induce an immune response—showed promise against a variety of abused drugs, including heroin. As a result of this collaboration, a combination candidate anti-heroin/HIV vaccine has now been created that is ready for optimization and advanced preclinical testing. This current grant award will support this next phase of research and development. The award will be administered through the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. and work done in collaboration with the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and NIDA.

“Heroin use is strongly associated with a high risk of HIV infection and represents an increasingly important worldwide health problem,” stated Matyas. “The possibility of creating a combination heroin-HIV vaccine provides an important opportunity to address both a unique treatment for heroin abuse as well as continuing the quest to develop an effective preventive HIV vaccine.”

This research competition is an extension of NIDA’s successful Avant-Garde Award for Innovative HIV/AIDS Research, now in its fifth year.  Both competitions are intended to stimulate high-impact research that may lead to groundbreaking opportunities for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse.