The National Institutes of Health announced last week that it has donated a $28 million grant to researchers at George Washington University to lead an 18-site collaboration to find a cure for HIV/AIDS.
The grant will be used to study and apply immunotherapy, a treatment designed to increase the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer, in order to create a new HIV/AIDS cure strategy. This cell therapy approach will focus on making immune systems work better to eliminate HIV reservoirs.
This grant is the second version of the National Institutes of Health’s Martin Delaney Collaboration program, which advances private-public partnerships to accelerate HIV/AIDS cure research.
This research project collaboration is titled, “Bench to Bed Enhanced Lymphocyte Infusions to Engineer Viral Eradication” or BELIEVE.
BELIEVE’s executive committee will be lead by Dr. Douglas Nixon, principal investigator and chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine in the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences; Dr. Catherine Bollard, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National Health Systems and professor of pediatrics and microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine at GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences; Dr. Alan E. Greenberg, director of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at GW’s Milken Institute of School of Public Health; and Dr. Brad Jones, assistant professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“We are happy and humbled to have been selected as one of the recipients of this important award,” said Nixon. “We have gathered together a diverse group of researches, who are all driven by the belief that a cure will depend on enhancing natural anti-HIV immunity, and that finding a cure must be accomplished in a fully participatory stakeholder fashion.”
The grant was awarded to GW after its proposal was peer-reviewed by scientists at the National Institutes for Health and judged to be the most meritorious.
“We’re lucky in the sense that the reviewers liked what we proposed, and the fact that we’re based in D.C. added bonus,” said Nixon. “But I don’t think that played into the overall decision making.”
In this interdisciplinary effort, BELIEVE will partner with Altor Bioscience Corporation and Torque, a biomedical engineering company.
The GW-led team will also collaborate with U.S. academic institutions including Howard University, University of Arizona, University of Pittsburgh, Harvard University and Georgetown University, among others.
In order to guarantee the success of this program, experts believe the D.C. community will have to play an important role.
“Long before we being clinical trials, we will create local community advisory boards, in each participation area so there is ownership of the research, and continued communication, engagement, and understanding of what’s going on, especially for the large community of people living with HIV in D.C.,” said Martha Sichone Cameron, director of prevention at the Women’s Collective and member of the Community Advisory Board of the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research.
“Through community engagement, we also hope to ensure diverse participation,” she added. “Doctors and researchers must work hand-in-hand with community members for this research to be successful.”
Nixon seemed confident in the promising results the research will produce.
“What we hope is, we want to get to a stage where we are testing our ideas and pilots studies and people,” he said. “We really want to be pushing scientific studies to translate them as quickly and as safely as we possibly can into something that might potentially work.”
“We know that through this strategic collaboration with our research partners and a commitment to finding a cure, we will move closer to reaching our goal of eradicating HIV/AIDS.” added Nixon.