For years, scientists have been researching new ways to treat HIV/AIDS, but a cure for the disease has been elusive. British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, already the world’s second-largest maker of HIV drugs, is pursuing what it believes could be a cure for the virus, and it is teaming up with the University of North Carolina in the endeavor. GSK and UNC will together form a new start up biotech company that will pair the virus research of the university with the financial support of the big pharma company.
The new company called, Qura Therapetuics, will be owned equally by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and GSK, and will operate from the university’s campus, the Raleigh News & Observer reported. GSK is supporting the effort with $20 million in funding over the next five years.
An AIDS cure is not as far-fetched as it once may have seemed. Reuters notes the case of the “Berlin patient” Timothy Brown, whose HIV was eradicated in 2007 by a complex treatment for leukemia. Brown’s case, treated by a stem cell transplant from a donor who had a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection, marked the first instance of a cure.
GSK and UNC say their efforts will focus on a research to flush the virus from reservoirs in the body where it hides. This “shock and kill” approach would boost the patient’s immune system to clear the virus and infected cells from the body. UNC has already showed some evidence that this treatment approach could work and has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test this technique in a clinical trial. UNC happens to be home to David Margolis, a professor in the university’s school of medicine and one of the world’s leading researchers in this experimental approach to HIV, the News & Observer reported. It’s still the early days for the treatment, and Qura Therapeutics’ has a long road ahead, something that the researchers readily acknowledge.
“I expect we will have progress in fits and starts, so we need a structure to pursue his work in a rational way over a long period of time,” Margolis told Reuters.
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