February 4, 2016  Print

Researchers from the Westmead Institute have helped achieve a breakthrough international agreement that will accelerate HIV cure research in Australia and overseas.

HIV researcher Assoc Prof Sarah Palmer from The Westmead Institute
Associate Professor Sarah Palmer who heads the Institute's HIV Reservoir Group

The International Aids Society announced the finalisation of a Common Material Transfer Agreement (cMTA). This move will significantly shorten the time it takes researchers to access antiretroviral drugs to be used in preclinical trials in HIV cure research.

HIV researchers from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research were actively lobbying for this outcome for more than a year. Deputy Director of the Westmead Institute’s Centre for Virus Research, Associate Professor Sarah Palmer, who is also Co-Chair for the International AIDS Society Towards an HIV Cure Industry Collaboration Group, said this is a huge step forward worldwide for HIV cure research.

“The difficulty has been accessing the antiretroviral drugs, which are produced and owned independently by a number of different drug companies,” Associate Professor Palmer said. “Up until now, researchers had to approach each company separately; a process that often took months and up to years, significantly delaying research and eroding grant money.”

Now, instead of applying to multiple pharmaceutical companies, researchers apply to a centralised organisation to access drug combinations, effectively speeding up the research process.

In particular, the cMTA will significantly shorten the process for transfer of drugs for academic researchers investigating combination antiretroviral therapies to control virus replication in pre-clinical animal models of HIV cure.

Additionally, researchers will be permitted to combine the drugs with the aim of achieving and maintaining a virally suppressed state, which will ultimately aid the search for remission or cure therapies.

“Currently, someone who is HIV positive is started on antiretroviral treatment,” Associate Professor Palmer said. “This significantly reduces the virus load on the body. However, the virus still lies dormant in cells, and the minute they stop that therapy, it comes right back and can cause a generalised infection again.

“Curative strategies research is about identifying where that virus is hiding in cells and investigating new agents to purge the remaining virus from the body. This involves testing new latency reversing agents or immunomodulating agents in combination with antiretroviral drugs in cell culture and animal models.

“Under the new cMTA, companies will send their compounds to a single repository and researchers will only have to lodge one application, which will substantially speed up research.

“This move benefits the HIV research initiative worldwide, ultimately facilitating curative strategy research.”