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GSK, UNC Chapel Hill Partner on HIV/AIDS Cure

HIV particles infecting human T cell

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV particles infecting a human T cell (NIH.gov)

11 May 2015. Pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline and University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill are establishing a joint research center and spin-off company to develop new treatments for HIV and AIDS. GSK says it plans to invest $20 million over 5 years for a new HIV Cure Center on the Chapel Hill campus to conduct research, and to start Qura Therapeutics, the spin-off company to take the discoveries to market.

While research over the past 30 years is advancing the understanding of HIV and new treatments are making the condition more manageable, HIV and AIDS continue to be a critical public health problem. In the United States alone, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 1.2 million are living with HIV, as some 50,000 new cases are reported each year. The agency estimates 14 percent of people with HIV do not know they have the condition. Worldwide some 35 million people are living with HIV, of which 3 million are children, according to World Health Organization.

The HIV Cure Center is expected to build on advances in finding treatments for HIV and AIDS that go beyond management of the disease to removal from individuals of all traces of the virus. Recent research in the university’s Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication aims to find residues of the virus left behind from previous treatments that can linger in the body, causing long-term health problems. Therapies based on this approach seek to strengthen the immune system to enable the individual to remove these residual traces the virus and infected cells.

For the HIV Cure Center, the university will provide lab space at its medical school in Chapel Hill where researchers from the company are expected to work with scientists on campus. GSK will offer its expertise in drug discovery and development, while the university provides its experience in basic and translational research, as well as access to patients.

The partners created Qura Therapeutics to handle business aspects of turning lab discoveries into therapies. Qura is expected to be responsible for issues involving intellectual property, commercialization, manufacturing, and governance. GSK is also part-owner of Viiv Healthcare in Brentford, U.K., with Pfizer and Shionogi in Japan,  developing antiretoviral treatments for HIV that is expected to advise Qura Therapeutics.

The partners say the combination of academic and commercial approaches is a new and badly needed model to go beyond management of HIV. “After 30 years of developing treatments that successfully manage HIV/AIDS without finding a cure,” says David Margolis, director of Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication in a joint statement, “we need both new research approaches to this difficult medical problem and durable alliances of many partners to sustain the effort that will be needed to reach this goal.”

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