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Company-Institute Teams to Tackle Residual HIV Infection

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The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of National Institutes of Health awarded three research teams more than $14 million a year, for up to five years, to develop strategies to help rid the body of HIV infections. The grants to project teams composed of private companies and universities or research institutes are part of the Martin Delaney Collaboratory — named for the late AIDS activist — to foster partnerships to accelerate progress toward an HIV cure.

Antiretroviral therapy enables many people with HIV to control their virus levels and thereby stay relatively healthy, yet some virus remains hidden in a latent or persistent form in cells and tissues where it is not susceptible to antiretroviral drugs. Each research team will take a different approach to remove these remaining HIV reservoirs. As part of a collaboratory, the teams will also meet periodically as their research progresses to find ways to work together.

Grant recipients include:

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington with Sangamo Biosciences Inc., a biopharmaceutical company based in Richmond, California. In this team, scientists will seek to develop proteins that attack HIV reservoirs, and study whether a patient’s immune cells can be made resistant to the virus. First-year funding is $4.1 million.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with Merck Research Laboratories, headquartered in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. These researchers will work to enhance understanding of HIV persistence in patients on antiretroviral therapy, and to develop small-molecule drug candidates and other therapies to target the viral reservoirs. First-year funding is $6.3 million.

University of California, San Francisco, and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute of Florida in Port St. Lucie, Florida, also working with Merck Research Laboratories. In this group, researchers seek to define the nature and location of the cells where HIV hides, better understand the immunology behind the creation and maintenance of these viral reservoirs, and develop and test targeted treatments that eliminate HIV reservoirs without broadly activating the immune system. First-year funding is $4.2 million.

NIAID is the primary funds source for the grants, with additional funding from the National Institute of Mental Health. The companies involved in this research — Sangamo Biosciences and Merck Research Laboratories — will not receive federal funds for their contributions. However, the funding announcement urges the partners to “to reach consensus with any proposed partners, prior to application submission, regarding intellectual property, data sharing, and other legal matters that may arise during the project in order to ensure that the goals of this program will be met.”

Read more: NIH Awards $1.8 Million in Small Business Grants for Vaccines

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