University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill researchers and local industry scientists secured $20 million in the from of a research contract targeting a cure for HIV. The deal was executed between ViiV Healthcare and UNC at Chapel Hill to renew the unique, public-private research partnership solely focused on discovering a cure for HIV. ViiV was set up by GSK and Pfizer, and later Shiongi joined the group.
HIV Still a Challenge
About 1.1 million live with HIV in America. Up to 14% of this population is unaware of their status and need testing. The disease impacts certain demographic groups disproportionately particularly racial and ethnic minorities and gay and bisexual male populations. An estimated 38,000 new HIV cases still occur each year in the United States. Although many of these could have been prevented and from a geographic clustering strategy certain regions are key for research and prevention strategies –more than 50% of the new HIV diagnoses occur in 48 counties, Washington DC, and San Juan Puerto Rico from 2016 to 2017 for example.
Worldwide, 37 million live with HIV. While highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) introduced the opportunity for a majority of infected individuals to achieve relatively normal life expectancies there is no cure and deaths continue—at high rates in some countries.
Founded in 2015, the collaboration represented a first-of-its-kind in the field of HIV research as it brought together in an integrated way academic and biopharma industry research expertise to create a deeper understanding of how HIV works and develop new approaches to eradicate HIV that could be tested in humans for the first time in the next few years.
Deal Terms: Parties Continue to Jointly Own Qura Therapeutics
ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill scientists will continue to work side by side at the UNC HIV Cure Center, which was created at the start of this important collaboration. The center is located at the UNC School of Medicine. Additionally, the parties continue their ownership of Qura Therapeutics, opened in 2015 along with the partnership, to manage the intellectual property, commercialization, manufacturing and governance needs of the collaboration.
The funds are important to keep the significant scientific talent that has been involved with this endeavor. With white hot biotech markets, funding for top talent is of paramount importance. The talent, of course, is a fundamental prerequisite for scientific innovation and breakthrough therapies—namely with this group the “induce and reduce” strategy.
Induce and Reduce Strategy
Led by Dr. David Margolis, the group’s research underway through the HIV Cure Center and Qura Therapeutics is centered on the topic of “induce and reduce.” This strategy first and foremost focuses on the identification of HIV copies that hide in human immune cells while the virus is suppressed through antiretroviral therapy. Once identified, the virus is essentially driven out of hiding (induce) so that it can be eliminated (reduce), reports the parties in the recent UNC news release. This team has been on the leading edge of HIV latency reactivation and clearance strategies in a race to purge the HIV reservoir to effect a cure for HIV. They have, thus far, made significant contributions to the field.
Turning five years of age, Qura Therapeutics represents a unique public-partnership between University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and ViiV Healthcare (venture launched by Pfizer and GSK and later joined by Shionogi). The partnership was formed to help offer financial and material support to the UNC HIV Cure Center and has represented an unorthodox way of conducting research—and the innovative model has helped the scientists involved create a new model to seek the breakthroughs needed to tackle an extraordinarily challenging global health issue.
Qura Therapeutics’ focus on the induce strategy was recently highlighted in an entry in the journal Nature. In this study, the authors show by using a class of drugs new to the HIV field, a signaling pathway in cells was activated that could robustly induce the hidden HIV to reactivate and become visible. David Margolis, MD, Director of the UNC HIV Cure Center, noted that the current breakthroughs by this North Carolina-based group wouldn’t be possible without the Qura partnership.
David Margolis, MD, Director of the UNC HIV Cure Center and Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology & Immunology, and Epidemiology at UNC School of Medicine
Richard Durham, PhD, Director ViiV Healthcare, Adjunct Assistant Professor, UNC
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