Dr. Michael Alpert is the President and a co-founder of Emmune, Inc. Dr. Alpert has worked on experimental vaccines for HIV since 2005, when he was a graduate student at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Alpert’s dissertation research helped to understand the mechanisms of protective immunity provided by experimental vaccines against HIV.
At the time when Dr. Alpert was selecting a thesis project, a top priority for the field was understanding what made a live-attenuated vaccine approach effective. By contrast, all of the other vaccine approaches that had been tested in monkeys or in humans had failed to confer protection against infection. Although usage of a live-attenuated HIV vaccine in humans had long since been ruled out on safety grounds, elucidating what was responsible for the efficacy of the live-attenuated vaccine could provide guidance for the rational design of a safe and effective vaccine for HIV.
What was responsible for the protection conferred by the vaccine remained enigmatic, due in part to the absence of antibodies that were effective at blocking virus infection in animals that were completely protected. Dr. Alpert showed that antibodies were nonetheless important for the effective immunity conferred by the live-attenuated vaccine, but that the antibodies were doing something other than blocking infection: they were flagging virus-infected cells for destruction. The process of antibodies targeting virus-infected cells for elimination by the immune system is known in the field as antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). However, at the time, there were not good tools for accurately measuring the ability of antibodies to direct the killing of virus-infected cells by ADCC. Therefore, Dr. Alpert, developed a novel assay for measuring this important immunological function.
At the same time, results of the first HIV vaccine clinical trial to provide any hint of efficacy pointed towards ADCC, the immunological mechanism that Dr. Alpert was studying. Dr. Alpert was therefore selected to measure one of six variables in the primary immune correlates analysis of the ‘Thai trial’ (RV144).
Upon graduation, Dr. Alpert was recognized by the Department of Microbiology & Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School with the 2012 Bernard N. Fields Prize, awarded to the M.D. or Ph.D. candidate within the department who best exemplifies the virtues of intellectual creativity, collegiality, and compassion displayed by Bernard N. Fields as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.
Dr. Alpert’s interest in eCD4-Ig derives from a strong commitment to plausible avenues for developing a safe and effective vaccine for HIV.