amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, today announced the establishment of the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research, an innovative collaborative enterprise based at UC San Francisco (UCSF). As the cornerstone of amfAR's $100 million cure research investment strategy, the aim of the Institute will be to develop the scientific basis of a cure for HIV by the end of 2020.
The Institute will support teams of scientists working across the research continuum - from basic science to clinical studies - and will tap into UCSF's extensive research network across the region. It will involve collaborations with the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology (GIVI) and Blood Systems Research Institute, as well as Oregon Health and Science University; University of California, Berkeley; Gilead Sciences; and the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle, Washington.
"We intend to quicken the pace of cure research by supporting a collaborative community of leading HIV researchers in one cohesive enterprise," said amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost. "The institute will allow them to conduct the science, share ideas, and test and evaluate new technologies and potential therapies in a state-of-the-art environment. And I can think of no better base for such an enterprise than the San Francisco Bay Area, the crucible of technological innovation in America."
"Furthermore, establishing an institute dedicated to finding a cure for HIV in a city that was once considered ground zero of the AIDS epidemic brings full circle the outstanding work that UCSF's researchers have been doing over the past 30 years," added Frost.
Worldwide, it is estimated that nearly 37 million people are infected with HIV. Current antiretroviral therapy (ART) can help people with HIV live longer and healthier lives, but it cannot eliminate the virus. There is general consensus among the scientific community that the principal barrier to a cure is the reservoirs, or pockets, of virus that remain in a person even after they have reached "undetectable" levels of HIV as a result of ART.
The new Institute, headquartered in UCSF's Global Health and Clinical Sciences Building at Mission Bay, was established with a $20 million grant over five years. It will enable teams of researchers to work collaboratively, across institutions and across disciplines, to address the four key challenges that must be overcome to effect a cure: pinpoint the precise locations of the latent reservoirs of virus; determine how they are formed and persist; quantify the amount of virus in them; and finally, eradicate the reservoirs from the body.
"For those of us who watched helplessly as thousands died, the opportunity to try to develop an HIV cure is truly amazing," said Paul Volberding, M.D., a UCSF Professor of Medicine who will direct the new amfAR Institute. "We are proud to have been chosen by amfAR as the only amfAR HIV Cure Institute in the nation. We're ready to end this epidemic."
"The San Francisco area has a higher concentration of scientific thought leaders in HIV than anywhere else in the world," said amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston. "The Bay Area has consistently led the way in developing and implementing scientific advances in HIV prevention and treatment, and the potential for this team of researchers to develop a cure is unparalleled."
Joining Dr. Volberding on the leadership team will be Mike McCune, M.D., Ph.D., Chief and Professor, Division of Experimental Medicine, UCSF; Warner Greene, M.D., Ph.D., Director and Nick and Sue Hellmann Distinguished Professor of Translational Medicine, Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, UCSF, and Co-Director, UCSF-Gladstone Center for AIDS Research; Satish Pillai, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine, UCSF, and Associate Investigator, Blood Systems Research Institute; Steven Deeks, M.D., Professor of Medicine, UCSF; Teri Liegler, Ph.D., Director of the Virology Core Laboratory at UCSF-GIVI Center for AIDS Research; and Peter Hunt, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine in the HIV/AIDS division and a member of the Executive Committee of the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF. They will work in collaboration with Afam Okoye, Ph.D., staff scientist at Oregon Health & Science University.
"This exciting new initiative will bring together the scientific, technological and team-building expertise of amfAR and its Institute partners," said Dr. Johnston. "We are confident that this new combination approach will enable us to rapidly advance the science around a cure for HIV."