LONDON – ViiV Healthcare, the GSK-owned specialist HIV company with headquarters  in RTP, has renewed its research agreement with UNC-Chapel Hill to the tune of $20 million over five years.

The goal: to find a cure for HIV.

Since its inception in 2015, a collaboration of academic and pharmaceutical industry researchers have been working to create a deeper understanding of how HIV works and develop a new approach to eradicating HIV that could be tested in humans for the first time in the next few years.

Although there is still much left to do, this public-private partnership is making a difference,” said Deborah Waterhouse, CEO of ViiV Healthcare, in a statement. “We are excited to continue this partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill for another five years and look forward to the contribution our unique skills and shared commitment could make to finding a cure for HIV.”

Under the terms of the agreement, ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill scientists will continue to work side by side at the HIV Cure Center, which was created at the start of the collaboration five years ago and located on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill will also continue to jointly own Qura Therapeutics, the company created in 2015 to manage the intellectual property, commercialization, manufacturing and governance needs of the collaboration.

UNC-Chapel Hill HIV researchers David Margolis, MD, and J. Victor Garcia, PhD, along with Rick Dunham from ViiV Healthcare (from left to right). Margolis is director of the UNC HIV Cure Center, which is home to Qura Therapeutics, a company formed through a partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill and ViiV, formerly the HIV research wing of GSK.
Photographed January 21, 2020 at the Genetic Medicine Building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Research currently underway is centered on the concept of “induce and reduce.” This strategy is first focused on identifying the copies of HIV that may be hiding in human immune cells while the virus is suppressed through antiretroviral therapy. Once identified, the virus is driven out of hiding (induce) so that it can be eliminated (reduce). This therapeutic approach strives to specifically affect the virus while minimizing the impact on the body beyond the hidden infected cells.

Qura Therapeutics recently published its research on the induce strategy in the journal Nature.

The paper describes how, 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. Bringing the virus out of hiding is often seen as the greatest obstacle to curing HIV infection as these hidden, HIV-infected cells can persist despite decades of antiretroviral treatment, and these findings mark significant progress towards a cure for HIV.

“Without the Qura partnership we would not have been able to get this far, this fast,” said David Margolis, MD, Director of the UNC HIV Cure Center and Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology & Immunology, and Epidemiology at the UNC School of Medicine, in a statement. “We have accomplished a great deal in less than five years and hope to accomplish a good deal more in the years to come to help people living with HIV around the world.”

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