Tapping Rare Human Superpowers to Make HIV Vaccine

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Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Imagine a world where everyone becomes a superhero and their power is the ability to fight off HIV. Like Wolverine from the X-Men, the Immunity Project hopes to grant everyone the ability to become immune to a deadly disease that has killed millions, and Gyft has agreed to donate up to $1 million in Christmas card sales to the effort.

The Immunity Project's main goal is a vaccine that harnesses the genetic gifts of "HIV controllers," a special group of people who have a natural immunity to HIV. Perhaps one in 300 people in the world have this immunity. Now, they're about to be tapped to save many others. How?

The non-profit Immunity Project's vaccine research focuses on HIV controllers' unique ability, within their immune systems, to target the specific markers of the virus. When their immune system attacks these markers, it forces HIV to mutate into a dormant harmless state, Dr. Reid Rubsamen says.

click to enlarge Entrepreneur Naveen Jain tells Techweek how HIV can be beat. - STEVE LA
  • Steve La
  • Entrepreneur Naveen Jain tells Techweek how HIV can be beat.
Rubsamen, a California physician, former chief resident of anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital and inventor of more than 65 patents, has teamed up with Naveen Jain, founder of the web design, branding and creative marketing firm Sparkart*, with the goal of re-engineering the "HIV controller's" immune response -- into a vaccine that can give everyone an incredible superpower.

Jain heads up the effort to raise much-needed funds to finance this push, and he says the Immunity Project will team up with Gyft, the online retailer of gift cards.

Gyft plans on donating 100 percent of its December profits to the Immunity Project.

Jain recently spoke at the Techweek Conference in Santa Monica where he hoped to get more entrepreneurial companies like Gyft to support the Immunity Project's goals.

"We want to build awareness," Jain says. "If we could build this relationship with Gyft, maybe we can build it with other entrepreneurs."

Jain first met Rubsamen in the operating room of the hospital where his wife was having their baby. Rubsamen was his wife's anesthesiologist.

"We had amazing conversation and my wife looked at me like I was crazy," Jain tells LA Weekly. "We were having a baby at time."

"We ended up later having dinner with Dr. Rubsamen and his wife where I learned about his research and all the incredible work he was doing."

Now, through that meeting, maybe the future holds a vaccine against AIDS. The Immunity Project, the non-profit founded by Jain and Rubsamen, aims to raise $1 million by the end of December through their partnership with Gyft.

*Jain's firm name has been corrected from an earlier version.

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