Sunday, June 17, 2012

The California Stem Cell Agency and an HIV Cure: Pushing for a Clinical Trial in 2014

The California stem cell agency's leading efforts to find a cure for HIV – one tied to the famous "Berlin Patient" – received a plug today in a piece in the state capital's largest circulation newspaper, The Sacramento Bee.

The article by David Lesher focused on a $14 million CIRM grant to the City of Hope in Los Angeles that also involves Sangamo BioSciences of Richmond, Ca. The team hopes to launch a clinical trial by the end of next year.

The Berlin Patient is Timothy Brown, now of San Francisco, who is the only person in the world known to have been cured of HIV/AIDs. It came about as a side effect of a blood transfusion carrying a rare mutation of a gene found almost entirely among northern Europeans. Lesher, director of governmental affairs for the Public Policy Institute in Sacramento, wrote,
"The possibility of curing a global pandemic like AIDS with funding from the California bond is exactly the kind of exciting potential that inspired voters to approve Proposition 71 by a wide margin. But the HIV research is also a good example of the challenge facing the state's stem cell agency as it tries to show voters that they made a good investment. 
None of the research under way will reach patients until long after the 10 years of funding by the ballot measure runs out. With the HIV project, researchers hope to be in human trials by 2014, but it is likely to be at least 10 years before they can show it might work in humans. And in the case of a stem cell cure for AIDS, it would be many years after that before a treatment is widely available.”
Jeff Sheehy, a prominent AIDS activist and a board member at the stem cell agency, described the effort as "the global home run. That's not in 10 years. … But this could be the beginning of something really amazing."

Lesher also wrote,
"Nobody thought stem cells might be used to cure HIV when the bond (funding for the stem cell agency) passed. Far from the embryonic stem cell treatments that inspired the ballot measure, the HIV research involves a new and growing integration of stem cell and genetic science."
Indeed, the ballot initiative that created the $3 billion California stem cell agency trumpeted its devotion to human embryonic stem cell research, which had been throttled by the Bush Administration. The agency has veered away from hESC research, which now amounts to less than $450 million out of the $1.4 billion in grants approved since 2004. 
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