GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill (UNC) will launch a jointly owned novel HIV Cure Center, as well as a new pharmaceutical company that will be founded to develop any compounds discovered at the Cure Center. Both the HIV Cure Center and the new company, Qura Therapeutics, will be located on the UNC Chapel Hill campus.
The new Cure Center will attempt to unravel some of the mysteries involved in finding a cure or cures for HIV.
Qura Therapeutics, LLC, will execute the business end of the UNC/GSK partnership. The newly formed, equally co-owned, pharmaceutical company will hold the patents and rights to commercialize any discoveries made at the Cure Center.
“A cure for HIV/AIDS requires a new paradigm. The partnership of UNC and GSK that is Qura Therapeutics recognizes that we need both new research approaches and durable alliances of many partners to sustain the effort that will be required to get to a cure. We will integrate science, drug development and translational medicine to create a comprehensive approach to research towards a cure. UNC-Chapel Hill and GSK will continue our existing work and other partnerships in the HIV/AIDS research area. This new partnership does not limit other partnerships, but expands existing efforts,” stated Dr. David Margolis, Director, UNC HIV Cure Center, IGHID University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
GSK will donate $4 million a year for five years for the initial startup of the Cure Center. The global pharmaceutical company will lend its thirty-plus years of expertise in drug discovery, drug development, manufacturing and marketing to the project.
In 2009, GSK partnered with Pfizer and later Shionogi to form ViiV Healthcare, which manages all three company’s HIV portfolios. ViiV holds the rights to twelve HIV medications, the latest of which is dolutegravir (Tivicay), an integrase inhibitor, approved in the U.S. in August of 2013. Currently, ViiV ‘s HIV pipeline consists of a phase II integrase inhibitor called S/GSK1265744. In 2014, the company generated $1.71 billion from the sales of its HIV medications. Qura Therapeutics will be a separate entity from ViiV.
Representatives of the UNC/GSK initiative state that it will focus on, among other strategies, what has become known as “shock and kill.” The “shock and kill” approach is a potential strategy where researchers hope to reactivate latent HIV that would then allow for the infected cells to be destroyed. This method will also be studied at the amfAR HIV Cure Center and is a current focus of the International AIDS Society’s Towards an HIV Cure initiative, and several other researchers and institutions including Dr. David Margolis.
Viral reservoirs are clearly a vital aspect to curing HIV. Much is still unknown regarding these reservoirs where HIV lies dormant and unable to be reached by the currently used HIV drugs. However, the “shock and kill” strategy appears to already be a heavy focus of many existing universities and projects. Hopefully this new endeavor by UNC/GSK will use its funding to look in other directions, specifically others that do not involve HDAC inhibitors, which have shown, thus far, to not be the key we need to move forward in cure research, as was initially hypothesized.
According to a GSK representative, the collaboration may be open to working with other researchers and companies. However it is unclear what that type of collaboration would look like.
There is a vast amount of ongoing HIV cure research underway. For example, a company named Arno Therapeutics, which is developing drugs to fight cancer, has found that one of its cancer drugs may hold potential in halting the replication cycle of viruses, like HIV. By affecting chaperone proteins, a newly discovered host-targeted means of fighting viruses, the virus is unable to properly produce copies of itself. In a distinctively different approach, a professor at the University of Rochester has found a means of possibly eliminating vif, an HIV gene that overrides a natural immune system defense called ABOBEC3G that protects against viruses. Dr. Harold Smith created two new classes of drugs utilizing ABOBEC3G and will be testing them through a small biotech (Oyagen, Inc.). Other potential cure strategies involve immune-based therapies, such as therapeutic vaccines, and gene therapies.
Collaboration between entities such as the cure center and discoveries such as these could dramatically advance and accelerate such research that may lead to a functional or eradication cure for HIV. The search for an HIV cure has become a primary focus of many researchers, organizations, institutions, private sector companies, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
The UNC/GSK collaboration, like the new amfAR Cure Center, offers a new means of expediting research that could eliminate years to the process of finding a cure or cures for HIV. Collaboration between the government, and public and private sectors appear to be the way forward in pursuit of a cure or remission for HIV. Without such collaborations, research and vital discoveries will remain fragmented, and the ability to fund promising therapies or strategies will continue to go unfulfilled, struggling for the continuity necessary for development and advancement.
Jeannie Wraight is the former editor-in-chief and co-founder of HIV and HCV Haven (www.hivhav- en.com) and a blogger and writer for TheBody. com. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Health People, a community-based organization in the South Bronx and an advisor to TRW (Teach me to Read and Write), a community-based organization in Kampala, Uganda. She lives with her husband in New York City.