GlaxoSmithKline, University of North Carolina Set Up $20 Million Spinoff to Find a Cure for HIV/AIDS

Published: May 12, 2015

GlaxoSmithKline, UNC Set Up $20 Million Spinoff to Find a Cure for HIV/AIDS
May 11, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

GlaxoSmithKline and The University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill announced today that they have created a partnership to develop HIV/AIDS cures. The partnership will launch an HIV Cure center as well as a company called Qura Therapeutics to handle the business, intellectual property and commercialization aspects of the deal.

The HIV Cure center will be built on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. GSK will invest $4 million per year for five years for a total of $20 million to support the HIV Cure center research plan. A team of GSK researchers will join UNC researchers at the new space. UNC-Chapel Hill will provide lab space on its medical campus.

“The excitement of this public-private partnership lies in its vast potential,” said Carol Folt, UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor in a statement. “Carolina has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research for the last 30 years.”

GSK announced on May 6 that ViiV Healthcare, a company jointly founded by GSK and Pfizer Inc. in November 2009, had initiated a Phase III clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of Tivicay (dolutegravir) and Edurant (rilpivirine) for maintenance therapy for adult HIV patients.

In addition, in June 2014 ViiV Healthcare and Janssen Sciences Ireland UC, a Johnson & Johnson company, announced a partnership. That group is investigating the combination of dolutegravir and rilpivirine in a single-tablet form for HIV treatment.

This promising development has motivated GSK to hold on to its 78 percent stake in Viiv, which has Pfizer and Shionogi & Co., Ltd. of Japan as partners.

One of the approaches the new partnership intends to pursue is how to drive HIV out of hiding. A problem that has been observed in treatment for HIV, as compared to a cure, is that the virus can shift into a latent phase and hide in immune cells where current antiretroviral drugs can’t touch it. UNC researchers have been working on a therapy that flushes the virus from the latent reservoirs, which then can be targeted by other HIV drugs.

“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, professor of medicine and leader of the UNC Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE), in a statement. “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.”

The investment in the HIV Cure center is a separate investment from GSK’s efforts in support of Viiv Healthcare. In addition, the company’s HIV Discovery Performance Unit will continue to work on new antiretroviral drugs at its research facilities at Research Triangle Park, N.C. ViiV will, however, play an advisory role to the HIV Cure center and to Qura Therapeutics.

As exciting as these efforts are, a shift from management and treatment to an AIDS cure is not expected to be an overnight accomplishment.

“In the next five to 10 years we should gain more knowledge around the various mechanisms that could contribute to a cure,” said Zhi Hong, senior vice president at GSK and head of the Infectious Disease Center of Excellence for Drug Discovery, in a statement, “and maybe in the next 10 to 20 years we can really bring these modalities together.”

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