Announces more than $2 million in new cure-focused research grants
Shortly after launching the “Countdown to a Cure for HIV/AIDS,” a research initiative aimed at finding a broadly applicable cure for HIV by 2020, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research on Wednesday announced that it has awarded 12 grants to researchers in the United States and around the world to pursue cure-focused HIV research. The new grants total more than $2.15 million, the largest sum disbursed by amfAR focused on HIV cure research. This round of grants was supported by a donation of $720,000 from the Foundation for AIDS and Immune Research (FAIR).
“The scientific challenges to a cure for HIV have been illuminated, and with the right investments, these challenges can be overcome,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “That’s the philosophy behind amfAR’s “Countdown to a Cure,” and these new grants represent our strengthened commitment to high-impact, smarter research that will accelerate our progress toward a cure.”
The new grants will enable researchers to explore various innovative strategies to overcome a critical barrier to curing HIV - eliminating reservoirs of infected cells that persist in various parts of the body and remain below radar of a person’s immune system or standard anti-HIV drugs. In the wake of the first report of a child to be cured of HIV a year ago, Nancy Haigwood and colleagues at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, will test the ability of antibodies to limit the establishment of the viral reservoir in newborns infected with HIV. In a study that could inform our understanding of how and when the reservoir is established, Dr. Haigwood’s team will test in infant macaques the effects of antibodies found to be effective in controlling HIV in humans.
At the University of California, San Francisco, Hiroyu Hatano, M.D. and colleagues will recruit subjects from ongoing studies of PrEP (pre-exposure prohylaxis). Because these study participants are frequently tested for HIV, Dr. Hatano believes her team will be able to identify subjects in the first couple of weeks of infection, when the viral reservoirs are established. This will allow the researchers to discover which cells HIV infects at various stages during acute infection, and how very early treatment might affect the size or distribution of the reservoir.
Meanwhile, a team of researchers at the University of Toronto led by Mario Ostrowski, M.D., is pursuing an entirely different strategy: therapeutic vaccination. Dr. Ostrowski and colleagues will conduct a small pilot clinical trial of a therapeutic vaccine to determine whether it can reduce the size of the reservoir. The vaccine will be tested in subjects who started antiretroviral therapy within six months of acquiring HIV and is intended to induce cellular immunity, one arm of the immune system responsible for killing cells that are infected with the virus.
“Our scientific reviewers were unanimous in praising the caliber of research proposals submitted in this round of awards,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research. “Our job is to explore as many routes as possible to get to a broadly applicable cure, and that means equipping scientists around the world with the resources they need to help us achieve our goal sooner rather than later.”
For a complete list of the amfAR-funded researchers and their projects, click here.