By Laura Kurtzman, UCSF News
In a bid to end the worst epidemic in modern times, the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) is funding an ambitious effort based in San Francisco to eliminate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from those who are infected.
With $20 million over five years, the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research will support the work of scientists at UC San Francisco (UCSF), the Gladstone Institute for Virology and Immunology (GIVI), the Blood Systems Research Institute (BSRI) and other academic partners who are at the forefront of the effort to cure AIDS, rather than simply treating it as a chronic disease.
The team members, all experts in the field of HIV cure research, have a well-established record of working collaboratively and were the sole winners of amfAR’s national, invitation-only funding competition.
Their strategy aims to achieve a functional cure, meaning that individuals infected with HIV would no longer need lifelong antiretroviral drug treatment to hold the virus in check.
“For those of us who saw the AIDS epidemic explode and who watched helplessly as thousands died, the opportunity to try to develop an HIV cure is truly amazing,” said Paul Volberding, MD, a UCSF professor of medicine who started the Positive Health Program at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center in the early days of the epidemic and was a leader in early clinical trials to evaluate antiretroviral therapy.
“San Francisco and UCSF have remained steadfast in the commitment to confront the epidemic, and we are proud to have been chosen by amfAR as the only HIV cure institute in the nation,” said Volberding, who will be director of the new institute. Volberding also is director of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute, which will provide administrative management for the amfAR Institute, and also directs research at UCSF Global Health Sciences.
“This will bring together a broad team of leading scientists who believe a cure is possible, and that it will happen here. We’re ready to end this epidemic,” he said.
As the host institution, UCSF will provide the headquarters for the institute in its Global Health and Clinical Sciences Building on the Mission Bay campus.
The amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research is the centerpiece of the foundation’s $100 million investment strategy to achieve a cure for HIV, which infects more than 35 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
On Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day, Volberding and the four project leaders were scheduled to discuss the latest research at an amfAR-sponsored 2015 HIV Cure Summit in the William J. Rutter Center at UCSF.
“We are thrilled to be launching this exciting new venture with such an outstanding team of researchers,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s chief executive officer. “UCSF is the ideal base for the amfAR Institute, and this collaboration has real potential for rapidly accelerating the search for a cure.”
The institute will focus on research into new approaches to HIV. Antiretroviral drugs kill HIV and result in the death of actively infected CD4 immune cells, as well, virtually eliminating the virus from the blood and saving millions of lives. But even with treatment, the virus remains dormant within a small percentage of infected CD4 cells — and perhaps even within other types of cells — in a variety of tissues.