UNC receives more than $40 million for global clinical trials unit to treat, prevent HIV

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a seven-year, more than $40 million award from the National Institutes of Health for a clinical trials unit that will implement the scientific agendas of five NIH networks devoted to HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and cure research.

UNC has had a continuously funded AIDS Clinical Trials Unit since 1987. The latest competitive funding renewal consolidates HIV clinical research operations in North Carolina, Malawi and Zambia into a Global HIV Prevention and Treatment Clinical Trials Unit (UNC Global CTU). The UNC Global CTU will receive about $5.5 million in the first year to continue and develop studies addressing the prevention, treatment and cure of HIV infection.

“Researchers at Carolina have been at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic from day one,” said Dr. Marschall Runge, executive dean of the UNC School of Medicine. “This award recognizes the scientific leadership and global reach of the UNC HIV/AIDS enterprise.”

UNC is home to a top-10 ranked HIV/AIDS program, involving dozens of researchers from laboratory scientists and clinicians to epidemiologists and policy experts. Between 2008 and 2012, the University received about $430 million in external research funding for HIV. The landmark study HPTN 052—named “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2011 — was spearheaded by UNC researchers. It showed that HIV treatment prevents transmission of the virus. UNC is also home to one of the largest HIV cure initiatives in the world.

The new grant provides funding through 2021 for five clinical research sites that make up the UNC Global CTU: Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Greensboro, N.C.; Lilongwe, Malawi; and Lusaka, Zambia. The Southeastern United States and sub-Saharan Africa represent some of the most severely affected populations in the United States and worldwide.

The UNC Global CTU will lead clinical research that addresses treatment of HIV and associated illness in adults and children, including tuberculosis and viral hepatitis co-infections. Prevention research will include studies of behavior change, treatment as prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis, HIV vaccines and microbicides. Intensive clinical studies to advance a cure for HIV will be a critical focus of the unit.

The UNC Global CTU is led by three co-principal investigators from the UNC School of Medicine: Dr. Joseph Eron, professor of medicine; Dr. Jeffrey Stringer, professor of obstetrics and gynecology; and Dr. Mina Hosseinipour, professor of medicine. The CTU is housed in the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases.

Although known for just 30 years, the human immunodeficiency virus has touched every corner of the globe, with 35 million people infected and 25 million lives lost. Not only is HIV a fierce biological opponent, but it is complicated by social factors related to stigma and the disproportionate burden on poor and marginalized populations.

“This disease will not be conquered with single-pronged solutions,” said Eron, who also serves as CTU project director. “The complexity of HIV requires a multidisciplinary approach. Our CTU brings together a broad range of leading investigators whose expertise is focused on the greatest disease challenge of our time.”

Read more at UNC Health Care.

Published February 26, 2014.