One major focus of the new collaboration will be the "shock and kill" approach for curing HIV, which involves unmasking dormant HIV present in patients' immune cells, before boosting the immune system to destroy all traces of the virus.
Due to be located at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) campus, the new center will consist of a small team of researchers from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), who will work with UNC-Chapel Hill researchers to discover a cure for HIV/AIDS.
The new collaboration aims to advance recent scientific approaches to curing HIV, including a "shock and kill" approach. This involves unmasking dormant HIV present in patients' immune cells, before boosting the patients' immune system to destroy all traces of the virus.
Such an approach has become a major focus in the treatment of HIV. Only last week, Medical News Today reported on a study in which researchers identified a molecule that they believe could be used as part of a "shock and kill" treatment strategy for the virus.
The researchers, from the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) Research Centre in Canada, revealed how a molecule called JP-III-48 acts as a "can opener," forcing the HIV virus to open up and expose its weaknesses, allowing it to be attacked by the immune system.
A team of researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill were one of the first to identify the "shock and kill" approach, and it is hoped the collaboration with GSK can move it forward.
"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," says Dr. David Margolis, professor of medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill and leader of the Collaboratory of AIDS Researchers for Eradication (CARE).
"After 30 years of developing treatments that successfully manage HIV/AIDS without finding a cure," he adds, "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."
'We must dedicate the next 30 years to finding a cure for HIV'
Since the HIV epidemic first hit in the early 1980s, almost 78 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus and around 39 million people have died from it.
The primary treatment for people with HIV is antiretroviral therapy (ART), which involves taking a combination of at least three antiretroviral medications. While these medications do not destroy the HIV virus, they can stop it from progressing.
Though such medications are life-saving, the virus is still widespread, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the population accounts for 71% of all HIV cases worldwide.
"Although today's treatments for HIV mean that millions of lives have been saved, people still have to take a lifetime of treatments, which takes an emotional toll and places an economic burden on society that is particularly challenging in countries with limited resources," says Zhi Hong, senior vice president and head of the Infectious Diseases Therapy Area Unit at GSK.
"This is why we must dedicate the next 30 years to finding a cure and scaling it up so that one day we will end the HIV/AIDS epidemic."
GSK will invest $20 million into the new research center - $4 million per year for 5 years - funding they say is separate from their investment into new antiretroviral therapies through their HIV Discovery Performance Unit based in North Carolina.
GSK CEO Sir Andrew Witty says the pharmaceutical company has a "long legacy of HIV research success" that he believes will be valuable to the new collaboration with UNC-Chapel Hill. He adds:
"This partnership is a testament to our past and present leadership, innovation and commitment to this field. We are inspired by the confidence that with the right resources and research teams, we will be able to make a meaningful impact toward a cure for HIV."