GSK renews commitment to HIV with cure centre

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has set up a partnership with a US university that will focus on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS.

The public-private partnership cements GSK’s commitment to HIV, after calling off a planned flotation of its ViiV Healthcare joint venture and pledging to keep hold of the fast-growing division.

GSK will join forces with the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill to create a dedicated centre – based at the university and staffed jointly with company and academic scientists – that it says will ‘create a new model to seek the breakthroughs needed to tackle an extraordinarily challenging global health issue’.

The drugmaker and the university will also create a jointly-owned company called Qura Therapeutics to handle the business aspects of the partnership such as ‘intellectual property, commercialisation, manufacturing and governance’.

The move links in with the growing trend among drugmakers to seek closer ties with academic institutions for early-stage research, recognising that the rising complexity of drug development means it is not feasible to rely wholly on in-house expertise.

One of the main projects for the collaboration will be a treatment approach called ‘shock and kill’, designed to overcome the limitation of current antiretroviral treatment strategies that kill circulating virus but not inactive viral reservoirs hidden away within cells.

These inactive viruses don’t produce proteins, so it is hard to identify and eradicate the infected cells. In ‘shock and kill’ the aim is to reactivate the latent cells so they can be targeted by the patient’s immune system.

UNC researchers demonstrated a couple of years ago that latent cells could be activated by administering vorinostat, a drug normally used to treat certain lymphomas. The team was recently grated FDA approval to combine this technique and an immune-boosting strategy.

GSK is investing $4 million each year for five years to fund the set-up and initial operations of the centre and, while the company said its investment is separate to its ongoing support of ViiV, the JV will play an advisory role to the centre and Qura.

ViiV had been heading for a spin-out from majority shareholder GSK for several months, but those plans have been set aside in the face of burgeoning sales and profits at the specialist division. Much of ViiV’s promise lies in recently-approved Triumeq, which pulled in more than $680 million in sales in the first quarter and has been tipped to make $2 billion or more at peak.

GSK and UNC will be hosting an online conference later today that will be accessible at https://youtu.be/AE9MWKIUNbM.

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