What You Need to Know About Qura Therapeutics

What You Need to Know About Qura Therapeutics
December 2, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Qura Therapeutics is a joint venture company of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and GlaxoSmithKline . In May 2015, the university announced the creation of the dedicated HIV Cure Center and a jointly owned new company that will focus on discovering a cure for HIV/AIDS. The HIV Cure Center will be located on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and will focus exclusively on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS. Qura Therapeutics will handle the business side of the partnership, including intellectual property, commercialization, manufacturing and governance.

“A cure for HIV/AIDS requires a new paradigm,” David Margolis, director of the UNC HIV Cure Center, IGHID University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told A&U magazine. “The partnership of UNC and GSK that is Qura Therapeutics recognizes that we need both new research approaches and durable alliances of many partners to sustain the effort that will be required to get to a cure. We will integrate science, drug development and translational medicine to create a comprehensive approach to research towards a cure.”

Company Leadership
David Margolis—scientific director of the HIV Cure Center. He will have decision-making authority on the daily operations and resources utilization for the center within the bounds of the overall business plan. Margolis is a professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, Epidemiology, School of Medicine Director, Program in Translational Clinical Research at the UNC School of Medicine. He is also the leader of The Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE).

Zhi Hong—member of the board of directors. Hong will run Qura and is the senior vice president in charge of GlaxoSmithKline’s Infectious Diseases Therapy Area Unit. He has been with GSK since 2007.

Matt Fajack—member of the board of directors. Fajack is the UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration. Prior to joining UNC in June 2014, Fajack was the vice president and chief financial officer of the University of Florida. Before that, he was a manager with Arthur Andersen & Co.

Company Financing
GlaxoSmithKline ponied up $4 million a year for five years for the HIV Cure Center. In addition, a small research team from GSK will move to Chapel Hill to work closely with UNC researchers.

The company is owned equally by GSK and the University of North Carolina. Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive officer of GSK, has indicated that the company is in it for the long-term, and is expected to extend the company’s commitment as needed.

GSK’s investment in the HIV Cure Center is separate from its funding of the discovery of novel antiretroviral (ARV) therapies in support of ViiV Healthcare, its subsidiary HIV specialty company. ViiV will continue its own work on new ARVs in the surrounding region, but it will play an advisory role to the HIV Cure Center and Qura Therapeutics.

The company’s focus, among many, is dubbed “shock and kill,” which is an effort to reactivate latent HIV—the target for whatever cure they plan.

“After 30 years of developing treatments that successfully manage HIV/AIDS without finding a cure,” Margolis said in a statement, “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. 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.”

Market Competition
Arno Therapeutics has a cancer drug that appears to be able to stop the replication cycle of viruses such as HIV. GSK’s own ViiV Healthcare is a prominent player in the HIV arena. In addition, Gilead Sciences is the leading provider of HIV drugs, which has also started a study of its GS-9620, a drug candidate that appears to stimulate the immune system and reverse viral latency in monkeys. Sangamo BioSciences is also working in this area, utilizing technology that genetically changes the patient’s immune cells so they become resistant to HIV infection.

Dollars and Deals
GlaxoSmithKline is expected to provide seed funding, drug discovery scientists, and drug discovery expertise, which will include possible access to various discovery and development platforms. GSK will also provide tool compounds, projects, and pipeline assets, as well as potential licenses for HIV cure indications.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will contribute laboratory facilities, infrastructure, and up to 50 lab-based full-time equivalents (FTEs), expertise in translational medicine, a well as cure assay platforms.

What to Look For
Because Qura Therapeutics is such a new entity, just proposed in May, with laboratory work only starting in September 2015, the company is expected to be settling into its facilities, hiring staff and initiating research in the upcoming year.

“The road ahead of us will be long and the challenges are many,” said Hong in a statement. “For every 10 steps forward, we will probably have some steps back—perhaps nine steps back—but we must focus on that positive momentum and that will bring us closer to our final goal that is to cure all patients with HIV.”

In that the goal is a cure for HIV, as opposed to treatments, they are clearly thinking long-term. Margolis told The New York Times, “We really feel like we are in the very beginning discovery phase. I can’t see something popping up that is going to be broadly successful in the next five to 10 years.”

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