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GSK launches new HIV research centre

Published on 11/05/15 at 10:35am
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GlaxoSmithKline is boosting its philanthropic efforts in R&D into HIV/AIDS by teaming up with academic researchers to launch a new company dedicated to curing the disease.

The British firm is teaming up with doctors at the University of Carolina Chapel Hill to create the HIV Cure centre, to “focus exclusively on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS”.

A new company, Qura Therapeutics, will handle the business side of the partnership, including intellectual property, commercialisation, manufacturing and governance.

The university has significant expertise in HIV basic and clinical research, and GSK, which owns a stake in specialist HIV firm ViiV Healthcare, also has strong ties within this clinical area.

GSK will initially invest $4 million a year for five years into the HIV Cure centre, which will be located in laboratory space on the UNC medical campus, and a small research team from GSK will move to Chapel Hill to work with UNC researchers.

The research team’s plans will include a strategy known as ‘shock and kill’. This approach seeks to reveal the hidden virus that persists in people with HIV infection despite successful drug therapy, and boost the patient’s immune system to clear the last traces of the virus and infected cells.

Part of the research underpinning this technique was first tested at UNC-Chapel Hill, and in 2012 a team led by its researchers demonstrated that latent HIV might be unmasked by new therapies. Recently, researchers at the university received FDA approval for a study in HIV-positive volunteers to combine this technique and an immune-boosting strategy.

Zhi Hong, senior vice president and head of the infectious diseases therapy area unit at GSK says: “Although today’s treatments for HIV mean that millions of lives have been saved, people still have to take a lifetime of treatments, which takes an emotional toll and places an economic burden on society that is particularly challenging in countries with limited resources. This is why we must dedicate the next 30 years to finding a cure and scaling it up so that one day we will end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

While UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt says: “The excitement of this public-private partnership lies in its vast potential. Carolina has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research for the last 30 years. This first of its kind, joint-ownership model is a novel approach toward finding a cure, and we hope it serves as an invitation to the world’s best researchers and scientists.

This month GSK announced it had backtracked on its plans to sell its stake in ViiV after this year’s first quarter financial results showed the spin-off, which GSK owns jointly with Pfizer and Japanese firm Shionogi, showed strong growth and a 42% increase in sales to a £446 million turnover.

Strategically GSK chief exec Sir Andrew Witty says the company is moving away from big-ticket blockbusters, having transferred its oncology business to Novartis, and towards high volume sales of consumer products and vaccines and high volumes of sales in emerging markets where population growth is fastest.

“Like UNC, GSK has a long legacy of HIV research success,” Sir Andrew says. “From the development of the world’s first breakthrough medicine for HIV patients in the 1980s [Retrovir (azidothymidine) in 1987], to our leadership in the market today through ViiV Healthcare, we’re continuously challenging ourselves to meet the needs of patients.

“This partnership is a testament to our past and present leadership, innovation and commitment to this field. We are inspired by the confidence that with the right resources and research teams, we will be able to make a meaningful impact towards a cure for HIV.”

Lilian Anekwe

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