GenVec Inc. signed a letter contract with the National Institutes of Health that allows GenVec to begin work with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop and manufacture preventative AIDS vaccines.

This is the first step in what GenVec expects to be a final agreement with the NIH that could mean up to $10 million over three years for GenVec.

A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement was initiated with the NIH in October, which allows GenVec and NIH researchers to begin sharing ideas and technology, GenVec President and CEO Paul Fischer told BioWorld Today.

It will take “a few weeks” before the agreement is finalized, Fischer said, but when it is, GenVec will receive payments as work is completed.

GenVec will be responsible for using its cell line and adenovector technology in combination with researchers at the Vaccine Research Center to come up with new adenovectors. Once designed, these adenovectors will be constructed at GenVec, which also will produce the adenovectors for clinical-grade AIDS vaccines, Fischer said.

The NIH will have the responsibility of taking the vaccines into clinical trials, he added.

“The NIH has a mandate and goal to develop a preventative AIDS vaccine that could be used worldwide,” Fischer said. “In three years, I’m sure [the NIH] would like to be at advanced clinical testing, or at the Phase III level, and find out if [the vaccines] have the efficacy they are looking for.”

GenVec stands to benefit in ways other than monetarily from the collaborative work.

“This program with NIH will be a great way to learn more about how those adenovectors produce an immune response,” Fischer said. “It is a good way for us to learn and expand our knowledge.”

GenVec said preclinical studies indicate that using replication-deficient adenoviral vectors, such as the ones GenVec focuses on, in vaccines can elicit B-cell and T-cell immune responses that could potentially control HIV-1.

GenVec has four therapeutic candidates in gene therapy in the areas of cardiovascular, ophthalmology and cancer, each with a different method of delivery. For example, the cardiovascular candidates BioBypass PVD (peripheral vascular disease) and BioBypass CAD (coronary artery disease), both of which are in late Phase II trials, can be delivered either by injection or catheter with gene therapy using the VEGF 121 gene.

GenVec’s stock (NASDAQ:GNVC) rose 8 cents Thursday to close at $4.08.