It has long been thought that a cure for the disease, which is caused by the HIV virus, was unlikely to be found, and GlaxoSmithKline had even considered floating off its HIV drugs business. Now the company has decided to retain the business and continue to search for a cure for the disease, which affects 35 million people around the world, according to Reuters.
GlaxoSmithKline: A new focus for research
The current state of research has moved beyond antiretroviral drugs, which can keep the virus at bay, and scientists are now increasingly optimistic that a cure can be found. A patient called Timothy Brown underwent a complex treatment for leukemia in 2007 which eradicated his HIV, and he became the first person to be cured. Science has continued to advance since then.
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GlaxoSmithKline is establishing an HIV Cure center in conjunction with the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, as well a setting up a new company which will be jointly owned.
Scientists at the facility will focus their research on various potential cures, including a strategy known as “shock-and-kill,” developed by scientists at UNC. The method detects dormant HIV hidden in white blood cells, so that it can then be attacked by a fortified immune system.
Long-term research needed
The research will be long-term and scientists are not expecting to discover a miracle cure. “In the next five to 10 years we should gain more knowledge around the various mechanisms that could contribute to a cure and maybe in the next 10 to 20 years we can really bring these modalities together,” said Zhi Hong, head of infectious diseases at GlaxoSmithKline.
Timothy Brown was cured by transplanting stem cells from a donor who has a rare genetic mutation which is resistant to HIV infection. This kind of approach is not commercially viable, and scientists are now more optimistic about simpler methods, which could be able to make use of recent advances in immune system-boosting cancer drugs.
“I expect we will have progress in fits and starts, so we need a structure to pursue this work in a rational way over a long period of time,” said David Margolis of UNC.
GlaxoSmithKline currently sells HIV drugs through the ViiV Healthcare unit, of which it is the majority owner. GlaxoSmithKline had considered listing the unit before a change of direction.