Year 1

HIV is still a major health problem. In both developed and underdeveloped nations, millions of people are infected with this virus. If left untreated, death from severe infections occurs within 8 to 10 years. Although advances in treatment using small molecule drugs have extended the life span of HIV infected individuals, neither a cure for HIV infection nor a well working vaccine could be developed. Drug treatment is currently the only option to keep HIV infected individuals alive. Patients have to take a combination of drugs daily and reliably for the rest of their lives. If not taken regularly, HIV becomes active again and may even become resistant to the drugs and continues to destroy immune cells. What makes this situation even more complicated is the fact that many patients cannot take these drugs due to severe side effects. Stem cell gene therapy for HIV may offer an alternative treatment. If “anti-HIV genes” were inserted into the genetic information of bone marrow stem cells, these genes would be passed on to all new immune cells and make them resistant to HIV. Anti-HIV gene containing immune cells can now multiply in the presence of HIV and fight the virus. In our approach, we are planning to use a combination of three anti-HIV genes which are much more potent. They will not only prevent HIV from entering an immune cell but will also prevent HIV from mutating, since it would have to escape the anti-HIV effect of three genes, similar to triple combination anti-HIV drug therapy. To demonstrate safety and effectiveness of our treatment, we have proposed a clinical trial in HIV lymphoma patients with stem cell gene therapy incorporated into their routine treatment with high dose chemotherapy together with the transplantation. The fund provided by CIRM (California Institute for Regenerative Medicine) gave us the opportunity to put together a panel of experts within the University of California at Davis and another panel of international experts in the area of gene therapy (an external advisory board). Intense discussion in multiple meeting with members of these two panels as well as many other meetings with individual researches within our institution resulted in the design of a clinical trial for treating patients with HIV disease using our gene therapy approach. It further helped us to identify the necessary means needed to support such a regulatory intensive gene therapy trial. To be able to recruit enough patients for such a trial, we used the funds from this planning grant for several presentations to our colleagues in other institutions for a multi-institutional clinical trial approach. The funds provided to us through this grant helped to calculate the budget required to 1) finish our application with Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to obtain the appropriate license for starting such a trial and 2) to manufacture the target drug and 3) to run the actual clinical trial. Finally, with the help of this grant, we have put together a CIRM disease grant proposal and have applied for necessary funds based on the above calculation.