Using a joint technology transfer grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Emory University and EraGen Biosciences will collaborate to develop gene-based rapid diagnostic tests that would help physicians target specific mutated variants of the HIV-1 virus with the most appropriate anti-HIV drugs.
The goal of the collaboration is to develop the world's first quantitative genotyping system for early response to therapeutic resistance in HIV-1. Because there currently is no standard genotype or phenotype testing available to determine HIV-1 variants, treatment regimens for HIV-1 patients are determined by hit or miss by simply providing drugs and evaluating the outcome. Some variants of the virus are resistant to particular drugs, while others are quite susceptible to those same drugs.
The NIH grant was awarded through the Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR), which was designed to encourage research and technology tranfer between small business and academic research institutions. Under the agreement, EraGen will provide Emory with sensitive genotyping systems for HIV, while Emory will provide expertise in HIV testing and testing results.
"EraGen has brought us a tool that will greatly accelerate our research into HIV drug resistance, since the mutation rates can be quantitatively detected at an early stage, allowing physicians to optimize treatment before the virus is fully drug-resistant," said Raymond F. Schinazi, PhD, professor of pediatrics and chemistry at Emory University and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Dr. Schinazi is a co-inventor of Emtriva and other HIV drugs. "We expect the technology will also be useful in our other drug resistance studies on hepatitis B and hepatitis C," he said.
"The technology that Emory and Eragen intend to develop could well be an important new advance in the treatment of HIV," said Mary Severson, chief technology officer for Emory University.
The NIH funding covers the developmental costs of a number of tests that are based on prototype systems already developed by EraGen for quantitative resistance screening to many of the most commonly used HIV drugs. EraGen Biosciences is a molecular diagnostics company that licenses, partners, develops and manufactures molecular diagnostics technologies for clinical diagnostic and life science research markets.
"We believe that early HIV quantitative drug resistance monitoring is not only important for therapeutic development, but will become the norm for clinical testing" commented Dr. James Prudent, CSO at EraGen, "Our technology quantifies both the susceptible and resistant forms of the virus in a single closed reaction system."
Emory University has extensive research and treatment programs for HIV and AIDS, including an NIH-supported Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), the Emory Vaccine Center, an extensive drug discovery program, prevention programs, and numerous international AIDS collaborations. Clinical research and treatment programs for HIV/AIDS are located at four Emory-affiliated hospitals in Atlanta and one of the largest outpatient HIV treatment facilities in the country.