The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia 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 at Children’s Hospital 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.” – Chris Wilson Director Global Health Discovery for 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, M.D., Ph.D., 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.
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.