amfAR Announces Close to $3 Million in New Funding for Cure Research
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Several studies focus on the potential of powerful antibodies for controlling, perhaps curing HIV.
NEW YORK, November 17, 2023 — amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, announced Friday that it has awarded new research grants totaling $2.86 million in support of innovative studies aimed at developing a cure for HIV.
Three of the funded projects involve the use of broadly neutralizing antibodies. These bNAbs are produced naturally in 10 to 30 percent of people living with HIV, but only years after infection when the virus is too deeply entrenched to eradicate. In lab studies, these potent antibodies are capable of neutralizing a broad range of HIV strains, and researchers are exploring their potential for both preventing and curing HIV.
“These new grants will further explore the enormous potential of the human immune system itself, or an enhanced version of it, to control and perhaps even cure HIV” amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said. “They represent an excellent complement to the gene therapy-based cure studies for which we awarded a further $2.4 million in July.”
A group led by Dr. Rachel Rutishauser of the University of California, San Francisco, will analyze data from five clinical trials to better understand why, in some of them, administering a cocktail of bNAbs at the point of stopping antiretroviral therapy improves control of HIV. While HIV eventually rebounds, several cure studies have shown that the use of bNAbs at the point of treatment interruption prolongs the period of post-treatment viral control. Dr. Rutishauer and a team of co-investigators from the U.S. and Denmark, including Drs. Steven Deeks and Michael Peluso of the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research at UCSF, were awarded a grant of $622,272 to study possible mechanisms that mediate this control.
By conducting cross-trial comparisons of specific immune responses in more than 100 study participants, the research team will test the hypothesis that delivery of bNAbs at the time of treatment interruption leads to boosting of immune responses in some and will lead to a better understanding of how to augment these responses in future cure studies.
While anti-HIV bNAbs, delivered by harmless viral vectors such as AAV (adeno-associated virus), can control HIV replication in the absence of antiretrovirals in animal models, they have not been able to eradicate HIV reservoirs. Dr. James Termini of the University of Miami will use his grant of $480,000 to study if using such antibodies with greatly enhanced ability to promote a form of anti-virus immunity that makes them over 100 times more potent than existing antibodies might overcome this roadblock.
Dr. Mary Ann Checkley-Luttge of Case Western Reserve University was awarded a grant of $500,000 to test two types of genetically engineered natural killer (NK) cells, or iNK cells, for their ability to reduce the HIV reservoir. These iNK products are already in clinical trials for cancer. One of the cell types is genetically engineered to include CAR genes. CAR T cells have been highly effective in the treatment of certain types of blood cancers. Combining the iNK cells with bNAbs, Dr. Checkley-Luttge and her team will assess their potency against HIV reservoirs in test-tube studies. If the researchers see more than a 50% reduction in intact HIV reservoir virus from cells taken from six people living with HIV, they will consider progressing to animal and human studies.
Finally, a team headed by Dr. Xu Yu of Massachusetts General Hospital will receive supplemental funding of $1,273,483 for her study that aims to determine whether some people on long-term antiretroviral therapy may have been able to clear their HIV infection without realizing it.
The researchers have been following a group of 66 individuals who have been on ART for at least 15 years. This additional funding will support high-resolution reservoir evaluations of the group. Most importantly, it will enable the researchers to conduct a clinical study in which ART will be interrupted in those among the 66 whose “signatures” of immune selection against HIV reservoirs are particularly robust, to see if time and immunity have led them to be cured. Collaborators on the study include researchers from Case Western Reserve University; the University of California, San Francisco; and John Hopkins University.
“These new projects join the 23 HIV cure research teams involving 104 scientists that amfAR has supported this year alone,” amfAR senior scientific consultant Dr. Jeffrey Laurence said. “amfAR remains one of the world’s leading funders of HIV cure research and is a particularly important resource for early-stage research that is a crucial step toward ending HIV.”
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and advocacy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly $635 million in its programs and has awarded more than 3,500 grants to research teams worldwide. Learn more at www.amfar.org.
Robert Kessler, Program Communications Manager