New amfAR Awards Accelerate Research Towards HIV Cure

NEW YORK, Oct. 22, 2015 --- amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Thursday announced a new round of research grants totaling more than $1.4 million. The vast majority of the funding will support cure-focused research projects.

Renewal funding of $850,000 will go to a consortium of European researchers that aims to replicate the case of the “Berlin patient,” the first and only person known to have been cured of HIV. Diagnosed with leukemia, the patient was given a stem cell transplant with a twist: The cells he received were taken from a donor with a rare genetic mutation conferring resistance to HIV infection. He remains virus-free.

Working within the amfAR Research Consortium on HIV Eradication (ARCHE), a research program launched in 2010 to explore potential strategies for eliminating HIV, the scientists will study the outcomes of HIV patients who undergo different types of stem cell transplants. Led by Javier Martinez-Picado, Ph.D., of IrsiCaixa in Spain and Annemarie Wensing, M.D., Ph.D., of University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, the consortium has already identified a group of patients who have undergone transplants, and continues to monitor their progress in the hope of generating new knowledge that can inform more widely applicable interventions.

“We’re very excited to continue our support of the scientists in the European consortium,” said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost. “They have made good progress since we began supporting their work last year, and they have real potential for significantly advancing the field of HIV cure research.” 

In addition, amfAR awarded a total of $600,000 to four promising young scientists who will each receive $150,000 over two years. These Mathilde Krim Fellowships in Basic Biomedical Research, named in honor of amfAR’s Founding Chairman Dr. Mathilde Krim, are awarded annually to nurture new talent within the HIV/AIDS research field.

Two of the Fellows will study aspects of the reservoirs of latent virus that are the main obstacle to eradicating HIV.

Luis Agosto, Ph.D., of Boston Medical Center, will explore a mechanism that involves the covert shuttling of HIV between cells, which could be an important factor by which the virus evades the immune response and thus may maintain the viral reservoir. Liang Shan, Ph.D., of Yale University in New Haven, CT, will use a humanized mouse model to test the efficacy of latency reversing drugs, studying their ability to reactivate HIV so that the immune system can kill those cells that harbor the virus.

Louise Scharf, Ph.D., at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, will study the molecular structure of broadly neutralizing antibodies isolated from two HIV-infected patients to better understand how these powerful antibodies can help in the development of a vaccine against HIV.

And Amit Sharma, Ph.D., of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, will explore how Rhesus macaques can be better utilized as an animal model in vaccine studies. Since the macaques are not susceptible to HIV and therefore cannot be used to study HIV specific antibodies, scientists have made viruses that are part SIV (the simian version of HIV) and part HIV, called SHIVs. However, not all SHIVs replicate efficiently, which limits their usefulness in the lab. Dr. Sharma is looking into what restricts the replication of some SHIVs but not others. His findings could help accelerate the field of vaccine research.

“The Krim Fellows are doing work that could produce major contributions to HIV/AIDS cure and vaccine research,” said amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston. “Their projects are exciting and innovative, and we look forward to closely following their progress.”

About amfAR

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested $415 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 3,300 research teams worldwide. Learn more about amfAR at www.amfar.org.

# # #