ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill announce five-year renewal of innovative HIV cure partnership

Image of two men sat as a table with a two halves of a speech bubble that it coming together like a jigsaw piece to show ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill announce five-year renewal of innovative HIV cure partnership

ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill have announced a five-year renewal of their innovative HIV cure partnership.

ViiV Healthcare, the global specialist HIV company majority owned by GSK, with Pfizer Inc. and Shionogi Limited as shareholders, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a leading global public research university with significant expertise in HIV basic and clinical research, have announced the $20m renewal of their unique, public-private research partnership solely focused on discovering a cure for HIV.

Since its inception in 2015, this collaboration, the first-of-its-kind in the field of HIV cure, has brought together the skills of academic and pharmaceutical industry researchers to create a deeper understanding of how HIV works and develop a new approach to eradicating HIV that could be tested in humans for the first time in the next few years.

Under the terms of the agreement, ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill scientists will continue to work side by side at the HIV Cure Center, which was created at the start of the collaboration five years ago and located on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. ViiV Healthcare and UNC-Chapel Hill will also continue to jointly own Qura Therapeutics, the company created in 2015 to manage the intellectual property, commercialisation, manufacturing and governance needs of the collaboration.

Research currently underway through the HIV Cure Center and Qura Therapeutics is centred on the concept of “induce and reduce”. This strategy is first focused on identifying the copies of HIV that may be hiding in human immune cells while the virus is suppressed through antiretroviral therapy. Once identified, the virus is driven out of hiding (induce) so that it can be eliminated (reduce). This therapeutic approach strives to specifically affect the virus while minimising the impact on the body beyond the hidden infected cells.

The pioneering research of Qura Therapeutics on the induce strategy was most recently published in the journal Nature. The paper describes how, using a class of drugs new to the HIV field, a signalling pathway in cells was activated that could robustly induce the hidden HIV to reactivate and become visible. Bringing the virus out of hiding is often seen as the greatest obstacle to curing HIV infection as these hidden, HIV-infected cells can persist despite decades of antiretroviral treatment, and these findings mark significant progress towards a cure for HIV.

Deborah Waterhouse, Chief Executive Officer of ViiV Healthcare, said: “Five years ago when we announced this innovative collaboration, we were inspired by the possibility that with the right resources and research teams, we would be able to make a meaningful impact towards a cure for HIV. Although there is still much left to do, this public-private partnership is making a difference. We are excited to continue this partnership with UNC-Chapel Hill for another five years and look forward to the contribution our unique skills and shared commitment could make to finding a cure for HIV.”

Kevin Guskiewicz, Chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said: “This groundbreaking venture has flourished thanks to the talent and dedication of top scientists and researchers from Carolina and ViiV Healthcare. I am thrilled that this innovative partnership will continue making discoveries and advancing a cure for HIV, one of the most pressing challenges of our times.”

“Without the Qura partnership we would not have been able to get this far, this fast,” said David Margolis, MD, Director of the UNC HIV Cure Center and Sarah Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Epidemiology at the UNC School of Medicine. “We have accomplished a great deal in less than five years and hope to accomplish a good deal more in the years to come to help people living with HIV around the world.”