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University of Arizona experts to collaborate on national effort to develop HIV cure

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PHOENIX — The University of Arizona will be one of 18 institutions working towards creating immunotherapies for an HIV cure strategy over the next five years.

The institutions involved will be broken up into six teams working on multiple different projects.

The UA College of Medicine’s project is known as the “Bench to Bed Enhanced Lymphocyte Infusions to Engineer Viral Eradication” projects, or BELIEVE.

This effort will focus on making an individual’s natural immune system work better at eliminating HIV reservoirs through cell therapy.

Their initial goals include enhancing the killing ability of HIV-specific killer cells, augmenting natural killer cell functions and harnessing natural killer cell and antibody-mediated effects in both adult and pediatric HIV infections.

The effort is being funded by a $28 million grant awarded to George Washington University, provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Elizabeth Connick, a professor in the UA Department of Medicine, expects the BELIEVE project to receiving approximately $650,000 in funding from the grant.

“We will be working with the BELIEVE team to test a strategy to cure HIV by targeting killer cells to sites within lymph nodes where the virus hides,” said Connick.

UA was one of the few institutions chosen for its already highly ranked HIV research and clinics, such as the Arizona AIDS Education and Training Center and the Petersen HIV Clinic.

BELIEVE will also partner with Altor Bioscience, whose drug ALT-803, has been found to not only “wake up” the HIV virus, but also enhance the ability of the immune system to kill those cells.