Philly FIGHT Helps with Largest-Ever Clinical Trial for a Cure

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Monday February 3, 2014

AIDS service organization Philadelphia FIGHT, in partnership with the Wistar Institute, an international leader in biomedical research, will participate in the largest randomized trial anywhere focused on testing an easily accessible strategy to advance an HIV cure. The project is made possible by a four-year, $6.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to lead a clinical trial that seeks to "drain the viral reservoir" of the HIV-1 virus in patients with HIV/AIDS.

"We are taking a real shot at the HIV latent reservoir bolstered by the exciting findings from our pilot," said Karam Mounzer, M.D., Medical Director and Clinical Investigator at Philadelphia FIGHT.

The research team is led by Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., Director of Wistar's HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory. The study will involve treating patients currently on antiretroviral therapy with a form of interferon, a protein that stimulates the immune system.

In 2013, Montaner published the results of a pilot trial showing that interferon-alpha can reduce the persistent amount of HIV-1 residing in people with HIV/AIDS who are currently being treated with antiretroviral therapy. The new trial represents the most significant randomized clinical study ever designed to deplete the viral reservoir in patients, a necessary first step on the path to a cure.

In collaboration with multiple clinics across Philadelphia and under the overall clinical supervision of Jay R. Kostman, M.D., a clinical professor of Medicine in the division of Infectious Diseases at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the team will now expand current studies to include a randomized clinical trial on 54 subjects designed to conclusively establish the effectiveness of this strategy.

"After all the years in which we watched so many people sicken and die, to glimpse a cure within reach is extremely gratifying," said Philadelphia FIGHT Executive Director Jane Shull. "We at FIGHT are extremely excited to be part of this research initiative which culminates work we have been supporting with Dr. Montaner at the Wistar Institute for many years."

Philadelphia FIGHT is a comprehensive AIDS service organization providing state of the art, culturally competent HIV primary medical care, consumer education, advocacy, social services, outreach to adults and youth living with HIV and to those who are at high risk, and access to the most advanced clinical research.

Each year FIGHT reaches over 8,000 individuals with social services and education programs and treats over 1,500 people with HIV at the Jonathan Lax Treatment Center regardless of their ability to pay. FIGHT’s goal is to end the AIDS epidemic within the lifetime of those currently living with HIV.

"HIV/AIDS has, in a relatively short amount of time, changed from a death sentence to a chronic disease managed by antiretroviral therapy," Montaner explained. "Research efforts are now focused on seeing an available treatment that can advance an HIV cure within our lifetime."

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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