RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC (November 15, 2004) – The 2004 GlaxoSmithKline Drug Discovery and Development Research Grants haverecently been awarded to three scientists working on novel approaches tocombat HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The recipients, who will share equally in a total of $250,000 in grant monies, are: Yaoxing Huang, Ph.D., from the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center; Olaf Kutsch, Ph.D., from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Hugh D. Robertson, Ph.D., from the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
“These research grants are given in recognition of outstanding scientists who have focused their creativity and talent on developing new weapons in the fight against HIV,” Dr. Doug Manion, vice president for HIV clinical research for the Infectious Diseases Medicines Development Center at GlaxoSmithKline, said.
Huang was awarded a grant for his work to design a single protein that will block all three steps of the viral entry process. “We have demonstrated in our laboratory that a ‘bi-active’ protein may be effective at blocking the first two entry steps, whereas a second protein appears to block the third,” Huang said. “The goal is to combine the inhibitors into a single, tri-active protein capable of blocking all three steps of viral entry before the HIV cell reaches the host cells,” he said. The GlaxoSmithKline award will be used to further test these and other proteins.
Kutsch received a grant for his cell-based high throughput drug screening system to identify potential inhibitors of HIV transcription. “HIV gene expression is dependent on a unique viral protein, called HIV-1 transactivator (HIV-1 Tat),” Kutsch said. “All previous attempts to identify HIV-1 transcription inhibitors, however, have failed to produce a clinically useful drug. For the first time, our system allows us to screen for HIV-1 Tat inhibitors with the capacity to immediately block HIV-1 expression. This capacity is considered essential for a transcription inhibitor to be effective in the clinical setting.”
Robertson’s grant was for his study of internal ribosome entry sites (IRES), whichare highly structured regions present in the RNA of some viruses. IRES regions are believed to direct the synthesis of viral proteins in host cells. Robertson and his colleagues discovered a target site within the IRES regions of several viruses, allowing them to be inhibited by a host enzyme called RNase P.
“Research by other scientists has suggested that the RNA of HIV has an IRES similar to those we have studied in other viruses, such as the one that causes hepatitis C,” Robertson said. “We have shown in our work that RNase P may inhibit gene expression within the proposed HIV IRES sequence.”
Winners of the Drug Discovery and Development Research Grants are selected by a review board comprised of independent researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. Members of the board that judged and selected this year’s winners, were: Dr. John A. Bartlett, professor of medicine, Duke University Medical Center; Dr. David D. Ho, professor, Rockefeller University and scientific director, Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, and Dr. Michael Saag, associated professor of medicine and director of the AIDS Outpatient Clinic, University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Since the research grant program was initiated in 2001, GlaxoSmithKline has awarded $1.5 million to further the development of inventive treatments for HIV/AIDS. These include therapies designed to prevent HIV infection or prevent transmission of the virus from one human to another.
GlaxoSmithKline is a research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare company. The company is engaged in basic research programs designed to investigate new targets to treat HIV.