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The BEAT-HIV Collaboratory Receives More Than $29 Million in NIH Funding for HIV Cure Research

PHILADELPHIA — (Aug. 17, 2021) — The Wistar Institute announces that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) granted a five-year, $29.15 million Martin Delaney Collaboratories for HIV Cure Research award to the BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory to advance research towards a cure for HIV-1 Infection by Combination Immunotherapy. This funding extends a grant originally awarded in 2016 based on research progress to date. 

Philadelphia-based BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory is a consortium of more than 70 top HIV researchers spearheaded by principal investigator Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Endowed Chair Professor and chair of the HIV Research Program at The Wistar Institute Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, and co-led with James L. Riley, Ph.D., a professor of Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Robert Siliciano, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. They are working to identify the most effective way to combine different immunotherapy regimens to cure HIV. BEAT-HIV consists of a large international group of investigators from academic, community-based organizations, and industry, and includes research teams from The Wistar Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia FIGHT, and others.

“In the five years since its establishment, the BEAT-HIV Delaney team has made significant advances to better understand the mechanisms of HIV latency and test combinations of immunotherapy approaches to get us closer to a cure for HIV,” said Montaner. “In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, we advanced HIV cure-directed research and successfully launched clinical trials with persons living with HIV in Philadelphia to test novel strategies to achieve an HIV cure. The new grant will make it possible to test added clinical strategies and expand our ongoing studies based on what we have learned.”

The new funding will support research articulated in three main aims: understanding the basic mechanisms underlying persistence of the viral reservoir; achieving durable suppression of HIV replication in the absence of ART; and developing new approaches to eradicate the HIV reservoir.

“Importantly, the new award will include an academic, community and industry coalition to advance HIV cure-directed research using cell therapy as the only reported strategy resulting in an HIV cure,” said Riley.

Through long-term partnerships with community groups like Philadelphia FIGHT, a comprehensive AIDS care and service organization, and with the BEAT-HIV Community Advisory Board, the Collaboratory will continue to raise awareness of HIV cure efforts in Philadelphia and nationally through outreach efforts. 

“The new award is a continuation of an alliance and represents strong community ties that support these researchers,” said Jane Shull, executive director at Philadelphia FIGHT. “Active research participation by persons living with HIV is required for scientific advances and community voices help shape the science being done. The BEAT-HIV team includes this local, active and committed community working in partnership with the research team, which is central to its success.”

First goal of the grant is to understand the basic mechanisms underlying persistence of the viral reservoir during ART, what cell populations contribute to rebound after treatment interruption, and the role played by host-related factors. 

The insight gained from this research will be key for the second goal of developing strategies to achieve durable suppression of HIV replication in the absence of ART. This effort will also build upon the advances in clinical research on broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAb) to neutralize multiple HIV strains and target conserved regions of the virus to help the immune system control viral production and remove infected cells. BEAT-HIV researchers will capitalize on advances in this area by testing synthetic DNA technology to better deliver the genetic blueprint for the body to make different specific bNAbs simultaneously. When used as combination antibody immunotherapy, bNAbs are known to be effective in controlling HIV. An additional approach to be tested will be to boost natural killer and T cell responses to achieve long-term viral suppression. Eventually, the two strategies will be combined to maximize long-term control potential.

The third goal of the BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory will be to develop new approaches to eradicate the HIV reservoir. Strategies to be tested will include novel drugs able to reactivate latent HIV hiding in the immune cells, combined with gene therapy designed to change a person’s killer T cells to make them able to find infected cells more efficiently via a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR). In addition, researchers will apply the mRNA-LNP technology used to create COVID-19 mRNA vaccines as a strategy to directly make cells resistant to HIV. The ultimate goal is to identify which approaches have the best potential and test them in combination to achieve complete HIV eradication.
The Collaboratory also includes researchers from University of California, San Diego; Harvard Medical School; The Rockefeller University; Rush University; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Duke University; Fred Hutchinson; NIH; Merck & Co.; Accelevir Diagnostics, LLC; University of Washington; and Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias (INER), Mexico.

In 2020, more than 37 million people were living with HIV and 27.5 million were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) worldwide. The Martin Delaney Collaboratories for HIV Cure Research program was established in 2011 by the NIH to accelerate the pace of HIV cure research.

Thanks to the advances in ART treatments, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, but their bodies can’t eliminate the virus, which remains silent in some immune cells and rebounds from this hidden reservoir if medication is stopped.

Click here to view the full NIAID release.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. wistar.org.

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