CHOP Receives Grand Challenges Explorations Funding for Novel HIV Drug Research
Children’s Hospital recently announced that it will receive funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.
Terri Finkel, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Rheumatology and Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, will pursue an innovative global health research project, titled “Use of a BET Antagonist to Control and Cure HIV Infection.”
Grand Challenges Explorations funds scientists and researchers worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Dr. Finkel’s project is one of 110 Grand Challenges Explorations grants announced today.
“We believe in the power of innovation—that a single bold idea can pioneer solutions to our greatest health and development challenges,” said Chris Wilson, Director of Global Health Discovery for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Grand Challenges Explorations seeks to identify and fund these new ideas wherever they come from, allowing scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to pursue the kinds of creative ideas and novel approaches that could help to accelerate the end of polio, cure HIV infection or improve sanitation.”
Projects that are receiving funding show promise in tackling priority global health issues where solutions do not yet exist. This includes finding effective methods to eliminate or control infectious diseases such as polio and HIV as well as discovering new sanitation technologies.
Dr. Finkel and her research team will study the potential of drugs called synthetic BET (bromodomain extra terminal) family protein antagonists to control HIV infection and latency. Current HIV drugs reduce the disease-causing virus to undetectable levels, but the virus goes into a dormant state called latency, from which it can make a resurgence if a patient stops taking medication. Previous studies by Dr. Finkel and other scientists have suggested that BET antagonists may flush HIV out of its hiding places where it can be destroyed by other antiretroviral drugs.
Dr. Finkel’s chief collaborator in this project is Gerd A. Blobel, MD, PhD, holder of the Frank E. Weise III Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who has focused on the biological activities of BET family proteins. In the first part of the project, Drs. Finkel and Blobel will investigate the effectiveness of BET antagonists against HIV in cell cultures. If these results are encouraging, the project will progress to clinical trials in patients with HIV. Because this class of drugs will soon be tested in humans as treatments for other diseases, appropriate BET antagonists are expected to be freely available for HIV clinical trials.
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to nearly 500 researchers from over 40 countries. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short, two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have an opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.