HIV therapy: Interview with Joël Crouzet, CEO of InnaVirVax

Interview conducted by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab) on the 29th June 2012


Could you give me a brief history of HIV therapies?

HIV therapy has traditionally been associated with antiretrovirals, which considerably reduce the amount of virus present in the blood to nearly undetectable levels.

In most of the patients, however, the virus is not eradicated.

Also, antiretrovirals use is associated with side effects in patients.

In addition, patients under antiretroviral therapies experience an inflammation process because their cellular immune activation is still on going. This is associated with a rapid ageing of patients.

This process is a real issue for patients and leads to diseases secondary to HIV infection.

Please could you give us a brief outline of InnaVirVax and its goals in relation to HIV therapy

The company’s goal is to offer therapy that would complement what the antiretrovirals are doing.

The antiretrovirals do a good job i.e. there is a considerable reduction of the amount of virus; but the virus is still acting on the immune system, causing immune activation and inflammation.

For that purpose there is a medical need to protect the immune system; this is what VAC-3S would do.

Could you tell us a little bit about VAC-3S?

VAC-3S is an immunotherapy which would protect the immune system during the HIV infection, particularly in patients under antiretroviral therapy.

It would prevent CD4 T lymphocytes from being depleted during the infection, preserving the main cellular target of the virus.

It would also result in a reduction in inflammation and immune cellular activation. This would lead to a lower level of exhaustion of the immune system.

The VAC-3S has been described as a “first-in-class” immunotherapy for the treatment of HIV infection; could you tell us what is so new about this therapy?

There are no other companies attempting the same therapeutic effect and disease targeted mechanism.

Whereas antiretrovirals prevent the virus from replicating and dissemination, this immunotherapy complements antiretrovirals at the same time as protecting the immune system.

Essentially it is a dual complementary therapy, so it would be given in addition to antiretrovirals.

How was the VAC-3S therapy developed?

The research originates from work that was carried out at Inserm, the Medical Research Council in France.

It was also carried out at a large hospital in Paris (Hopital de Pitié Salpêtrière) and also at a large university (Université Pierre et Marie Curie).

The work was performed by Professor Debre and Dr Vincent Vieillard.

They investigated the mechanism behind the HIV infection and how the virus masters the destruction of CD4 T lymphocytes. This allowed them to design an immunotherapy to block this mechanism.

By blocking this mechanism the CD4 T lymphocytes would be protected during the infection and the antiretroviral therapy.

The VAC-3S drug is at the patent application stage, could you explain to us what this means in terms of time until the drug will reach potential patients

It will be around 8 years from now until the therapy would be available to patients infected with HIV.

There have already been two previous patents protecting the immunotherapy developed by InnaVirVax. The most recent patent application is to consolidate our intellectual property. This is key to InnaVirVax.

The recently filed patent application will allow a patent protection for at least 20 years. It may extended according patent rules.

Could you tell us a little bit more about how the patent application process relates to the clinical development, i.e. at what stage of clinical development is it typical to apply for a patent?

It is better to apply for the patent early on, even before the therapy is trialled in humans, rather than to wait until later on.

From our side, InnaVirVax has decided to do that later in order to protect the invention up to a date which is further in the future.

It is not too expensive to apply for a patent; however, there is a higher cost at a later stage when you file the patent application in many countries and you have translation costs, which are significant.

What do you think the future holds for VAC-3S?

We have accumulated an extensive set of data supporting the development of VAC-3S. We even have correlations in more than 500 patients showing that this immunotherapy has a strong potential.

VAC-3S’s success will depend on the results on clinical trials performed in humans. If VAC-3S was to be successful it would be a major advance in HIV therapy.

How do you see the future of HIV therapy progressing?

The antiretrovirals are doing a good job, but so far no major advances have been seen on the protection of the immune systems in patients.

Of course, the antiretrovirals used today are less toxic than they were in the early days and they may be now administered through a single pill, as opposed to one pill per each antiretroviral.

Eradication of the HIV virus, will, however, need a much longer-term approach.

Where can people go for more information on VAC-3S?

They can visit our website for more information:

About Joël Crouzet

Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientific Officer, Founder of InnaVirVax

Joël Crouzet holds a PhD from Institut National Agronomique of Paris (now AgroParisTech) and is entitled to supervise research.

Joel Crouzet

He has 15 years of experience in R&D in the Pharma and Biotechnology sectors. His last positions include Research Director of Neurotech SA and AP Cells, and Department Director at Rhône-Poulenc Rorer Gencell (now part of Sanofi-Aventis).

He is the co-inventor of more than twenty four patent applications or issued patent families, two of which are used industrially for the manufacturing of vitamin B12and two other are in advanced clinical development (NV1FGF by Sanofi-Aventis).

Lastly, Joël Crouzet, has gained a strong expertise in business development and technology transfer at Inserm-Transfert where he was General Manager; in this position he has negotiated licensing and collaborative deals with Pharmas and start-up and detected and/or coached research results from Inserm with strong innovative potential towards either out licensing or start-up incorporation.

Joël Crouzet is twice an award winner of the Rhône-Poulenc (now part of Sanofi-Aventis) research prize (1990 &1996), a co-wardee of the Doistau-Blutet award from the French Academy of Sciences (1992) and an awardee of the contest of the young innovative start-up from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research in 2008.

April Cashin-Garbutt

Written by

April Cashin-Garbutt

April graduated with a first-class honours degree in Natural Sciences from Pembroke College, University of Cambridge. During her time as Editor-in-Chief, News-Medical (2012-2017), she kickstarted the content production process and helped to grow the website readership to over 60 million visitors per year. Through interviewing global thought leaders in medicine and life sciences, including Nobel laureates, April developed a passion for neuroscience and now works at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, located within UCL.


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