Through the new company, called Qura Therapeutics, GSK will invest $4m (€3.58m) per year for five years to fund the initial Chapel Hill-based HIV Cure center’s research plan, and a small research team from GSK will move to Chapel Hill to be co-located with UNC researchers.
GSK will be contributing its expertise in drug discovery, development and manufacturing, while UNC-Chapel Hill will offer research and translational medicine capabilities, talent, as well as access to patients and funding. Qura will handle the business side of the partnership, including intellectual property, commercialization, manufacturing and governance.
‘Shock and Kill’
UNC and GSK will focus on one leading approach toward an HIV cure, which some call “shock and kill.” This approach seeks to reveal the latent virus that persists in people with HIV infection despite successful drug therapy, and augment the patient’s immune system to clear traces of the virus and infected cells.
Part of this new paradigm was first tested at UNC-Chapel Hill and in 2012 a team led by UNC researchers demonstrated that latent HIV might be unmasked by new therapies. More recently, researchers at the university received FDA approval for a study in HIV-positive volunteers to combine this technique and an immune-boosting strategy.
“After 30 years of developing treatments that successfully manage HIV/AIDS without finding a cure, 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,” said David Margolis, Carolina professor of medicine and leader of the Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication. “The ‘shock and kill’ approach has shown significant promise in early translational research on humans and has been the focus of research for the last several years.”
“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,” said Zhi Hong, senior vice president and head of the Infectious Diseases Therapy Area Unit at GSK. “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.”
This isn’t GSK’s first investment in HIV research. The company says its investment in the HIV Cure center is separate from its investment in the discovery of novel antiretroviral (ARV) therapies in support of ViiV Healthcare, a specialty HIV company geared to advancing treatment and care for people living with HIV and owned by GSK, Pfizer and Shionogi. Viiv will play an advisory role to the HIV Cure center and Qura Therapeutics.
GSK’s HIV Discovery Performance Unit will also continue its work on new ARVs in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.