The Canadian HIV Cure Enterprise (CanCure) has won a $6-million grant from the federal government to continue its work in the field of HIV research.
“We were extremely happy and satisfied that after a peer-review by an international panel, people recognized the work that has been accomplished by CanCure,” said Dr. Eric Cohen, a researcher at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) and head of CanCure.
Cohen said his team’s approach was deemed “highly innovative, novel, and very promising.”
Cohen’s team is looking for ways to attack the virus that causes the deadly autoimmune disease known as AIDS, while it lies dormant in viral reservoirs.
“Viral reservoirs are cells in which the virus is silent during antiretroviral therapy,” Cohen explained, adding that’s why patients need to remain on the daily drug cocktail throughout their lives.
“If they stop treatment, you have a viral rebound and the progression of the disease,” he said.
Without those drugs, the virus enters cells, replicates, and kills almost all those cells.
Cohen’s hope is to find a cure by destroying the virus where it sleeps.
The research is time consuming, with breaks few and far between.
“Once a year you get a breakthrough that really changes the way you see your project,” research associate Mariana Bago says.
“Suddenly you get this missing piece that just tells you, oh, I was just looking at things the wrong way.”
According to the Public Public Health Agency of Canada, about 37 million people have HIV worldwide. Close to a million died from AIDS in 2017.
In Canada, as many as 70,000 people have been diagnosed with an HIV infection.
The grant money will allow the multidisciplinary team of HIV researchers to continue to conduct work on the virus for the next five years, Cohen said.