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Wistar in the TV News: Scripps News story on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Shining a spotlight on the need for an HIV cure during National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Wistar HIV researcher Dr. Luis Montaner spoke about his HIV cure research with Scripps News reporter Adi Guajarda for her National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day segment. The story shines a light on how HIV/AIDS is impacting the health of Black communities at a disproportionate rate. And how this negative effect—combined with stigma, racial discrimination and social determinants—leads to poorer health outcomes. The segment also pointed to hope and included an interview with Adam Castillejo, who is also known as the “London Patient” and is the second person in the world to be cured of HIV/AIDS. Adam became resistant to HIV after receiving a bone marrow transplant to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

New Community Partnership Model Boosts Inclusion of Participants into HIV Cure-Directed Research 

PHILADELPHIA — (July 19, 2023) — Scientists have long used community advisory boards to engage communities and provide feedback on studies, but this model has limitations. Now, researchers from The Wistar Institute are sharing how a more inclusive model for community engagement can lead to deeper insights and greater community participation in HIV research. The community engagement group, or CEG model, is composed of a three-part structure with a Community Advisory Board (CAB), Community nonprofit organization, and researchers.

“The more inclusive community engagement group model is a valuable resource for scientists because of the broader reach, deeper trust and credibility we can maintain with persons living with HIV in our community,” said Luis Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., vice president for scientific operations, Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professor, director, HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory, and leader, HIV Research Program, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at The Wistar Institute. “Unlike isolated advisory board models, in which researchers propose ideas and the board provides advice, the CEG model is a collaborative working unit at every stage of the research process.”

As a clinic and service provider, Philadelphia FIGHT is constantly interacting with HIV patients and providers, as well as advocating for policy changes, giving it a role in the CEG that provides “a much broader footprint” than a traditional CAB, Montaner said. By combining Philadelphia FIGHT with the CAB, it also established greater access and trust within the target community.

“This a very unique, dynamic model because we are all working together,” said William B. Carter, chairman of the BEAT-HIV Community Advisory Board (CAB). “We (the community) work in unison with researchers and Philadelphia FIGHT and it’s a beautiful thing. In my eyes, the scientists dream up the roadmap to implement cure research with collaborators. And then the community makes the dream our own. The scientists’ dreams will never come to light because they can’t take that injection, they can’t take that pill. You need health clinics and services to help organizations. Then you need us. I don’t see how we can’t succeed.”

“Projects are developed in partnership,” Montaner said. “As a larger working group with community nonprofit groups serving patient communities, together with community advocates sharing life experiences, the result of our joint work goes beyond just asking community members to be only advisors.”

The Montaner Team’s case study about their experience combining scientists, Philadelphia FIGHT and a CAB under a CEG model, entitled “Community engagement group model in basic and biomedical research: lessons learned from the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory towards an HIV-1 cure,” was published June 8, 2023 in the journal Research Involvement and Engagement.

Montaner, who was senior author of the paper, said the Team published the report after hearing questions from other researchers about how to replicate the Wistar CEG model. “Over time we’ve been asked, ‘How do you do it?” he said. “Overall, we’re proposing a new model for community engagement.”

The paper details the decades-long relationship between HIV researchers at Wistar and Philadelphia FIGHT, a nonprofit AIDS services organization, clinic, and advocacy group. The collaboration eventually led to the establishment of the BEAT-HIV Community Engagement Group or CEG when a CAB was added as the third component.

Along with a history of the collaboration, the report also documents examples of specific projects, and lessons learned, with potential strengths and challenges faced with the CEG since its start.

“We’re proposing a new, improved and more intentional model for community engagement with greater equity and roles than our previous practices,” Montaner said. “We are hopeful that other research programs, not just HIV cure-directed research, can adapt our experience to increase community partnerships into ongoing research efforts.”

Co-authors: Karine Dubé of the University of California San Diego; Beth Peterson of The Wistar Institute; Nora L. Jones, William B. Carter, Christine Dannaway, Steven Johnson, Roy Hayes, Marcus Hill, and Rease Maddox of the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory Community Advisory Board; Amy Onorato, David Metzger, and James L. Riley of the University of Pennsylvania; Jane Shull of Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers.

Work supported by: the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and The Robert I. Jacobs Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation.

Publication information: “Community engagement group model in basic and biomedical research: lessons learned from the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory towards an HIV-1 cure,” Research Involvement and Engagement (DATE).

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The Wistar Institute, the first independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, marshals the talents of an international team of outstanding scientists through a culture of biomedical collaboration and innovation. Wistar scientists are focused on solving some of the world’s most challenging and important problems in the field of cancer, infectious disease, and immunology. Wistar has been producing groundbreaking advances in world health for more than a century. Consistent with its legacy of leadership in biomedical research and a track record of life-saving contributions in immunology and cell biology, Wistar scientists’ early-stage discoveries shorten the path from bench to bedside. wistar.org.

Wistar Scientists Honored, Speak at AIDS Education Month Event

Pride Month in Philadelphia, PA, is celebrated alongside another worthy cause: AIDS Education Month, an event series organized by the nonprofit Philadelphia FIGHT to raise awareness of those living with AIDS, AIDS treatments & healthcare and AIDS research. The Wistar Institute has collaborated with Philadelphia FIGHT for decades to advance their mission to cure HIV/AIDS.

At the opening celebration for AIDS Education Month on Thursday, June 1st, Philly FIGHT honored two Wistar senior scientists for their decades of contribution to HIV/AIDS research. Drs. Livio Azzoni and Emmanouil Papasavvas — each a senior scientist in the HIV program and Wistar Montaner Lab — received the Kiyoshi Kuromiya award, which honors a community Philadelphia activist, Kiyoshi Kuromiya that galvanized national and global awareness to the needs of persons living with HIV. Kuromiya organized with the Gay Liberation Front for gay rights and founded the Philly chapter of ACT UP to advocate for those impacted by the AIDS epidemic, and the award bearing his name recognizes those who have similarly impacted our community and made a difference to the lives of persons living with HIV.

Dr. Papasavvas was moved by the honor, and he took the opportunity to thank everyone involved in the collaborative work of the research process: “Research is not working alone; we all work together, trying to find the path to discover cures for all diseases, and right now, for HIV.”

Upon accepting his award, Dr. Azzoni also emphasized the teamwork necessary for science by speaking to the importance of both institutional support and patient focus in the search for an AIDS cure: “By doing patient-oriented research, we aim at involving all stakeholders in all stages, from design to implementation.” Both men received standing ovations from the crowd.

Dr. Montaner then joined the stage to participate in a panel discussion titled “The Evolution of HIV Research,” where he was accompanied by moderator and Director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Division of HIV Health, Dr. Kathleen A. Brady; Chief Scientific Officer and Medical Director of the Jonathan Lax Treatment Center, Dr. Karam Mounzer; Philadelphia FIGHT Director of Research, Emily Hiserodt, MPH; and longtime AIDS advocate, survivor and Chair of the BEAT-HIV Community Advisory Board, William Carter.

The panel sought to answer a compelling question: in the context of medical advances, why is research that seeks an HIV cure still important?

Panelists’ answers addressed several areas. William Carter, as an AIDS survivor, pointed out that an absolute cure would eliminate his need to take medication on an indefinite basis or receive regular bloodwork. Dr. Mounzer spoke to the fact that functional remission, while a tremendous achievement, still comes with reduced life expectancy and general stressors — like comorbidities and side-effects from the maintenance medications — relative to the HIV-negative population.

Dr. Montaner agreed with his fellow panelists on these points and expressed his belief in the macroscopic utility of reaching an HIV cure:

“First, investments made in understanding how HIV persists in somebody over a lifetime have benefited Society as a whole. We have one clear example: COVID. The clinical trials network and trained staff that supported COVID vaccine trials was made possible by the infrastructure that was already in place supporting studies on developing an HIV vaccine or novel therapies.

Second, reaching an HIV cure will hopefully remove the stigma directed towards persons living with HIV.”

Finally, scientific advances in one area of human health, Dr. Montaner emphasized, do not simply remain there: they carry over to different areas of study and move those fields forward, too. “If we can crack chronic infection in those living with HIV — or even just get closer towards that cure — we’re going to get insights into how to advance research into added diseases at the same time.”

GeneOne and Wistar Institute Collaborate to Develop Small Molecule Therapeutics to Protect Humans from Nipah Virus

PHILADELPHIA — (May 10, 2023) — GeneOne Life Science, Inc.(“GeneOne” KOSPI: 011000), a leading biopharmaceutical company specializing in developing nucleic-acid based treatments and novel small-molecule therapeutics, and The Wistar Institute, an international biomedical research leader in cancer, immunology, infectious disease, and vaccine development, headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, announce a collaboration to identify novel small molecules capable of inhibiting Nipah virus entry into cells and to develop these into preclinical leads for future advancement into global Phase I clinical trials for the treatment and/or post-exposure prophylaxis of Nipah virus infection.

This program anchored at The Wistar Institute is under the direction of Dr. Luis J. Montaner, Kean Family Professor, director of Wistar’s HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory and leader of the HIV Research Program, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center. Montaner’s team has extensive experience in developing small molecule therapies against infectious diseases including HIV and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Drug screening and small molecule design will be conducted by Dr. Joseph Salvino, professor in Wistar’s Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis Program, scientific director of Wistar’s Molecular Screening & Protein Expression Facility, and an industry trained medicinal chemist.

Nipah virus is a zoonotic RNA virus of the genus Henipavirus, that first appeared on farms in Malaysia and Singapore in humans and pigs. Animals or humans exposed to bodily fluids from infected bats, the animal reservoir of Nipah virus, are susceptible to infection. Since 1999, Nipah outbreaks have occurred in other countries of Southeast Asia. Outbreaks of Nipah disease have occurred most frequently in Bangladesh and India since 1999 and have been associated with severe neurological disease as well as high mortality (40-70% death rate). Due to its epidemic potential and insufficient countermeasures against it, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified Nipah virus as a high priority pathogen for research and development.

“It is an important step for global health that GeneOne and The Wistar Institute are joining forces to develop novel therapies against Nipah virus as a recognized high priority pathogen with future pandemic potential,” said Dr. Montaner.

While there are no approved vaccines or drugs to combat Nipah virus, GeneOne’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Kar Muthumani and colleagues recently demonstrated that a synthetic nucleic acid vaccine they developed could result in an effective anti-Nipah virus cellular and humoral immune response in mice.

Dr. Muthumani said, “We are excited about the immunogenicity of our Nipah vaccine, and now we are pleased to collaborate with The Wistar Institute to develop new small molecule inhibitors to add to our portfolio of countermeasures against Nipah infection. GeneOne has always been an innovator and leader in designing synthetic nucleic acid vaccines against emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) and we expect collaborations such as this to help us add new therapeutics to our portfolio that can be used alone or paired with our vaccines to create stronger countermeasures against EIDs.”

Young K. Park, Chief Executive Officer of GeneOne commented that “In addition to vaccines, there is a critical need for drugs and other therapies that block virus transmission from animals-to-humans and even humans-to-humans. While the goal of this project is to develop drugs that block Nipah virus infection, the methods and tools employed and developed here carry great future potential in creating new drugs against other emerging zoonotic diseases that threaten global health. Moreover, since Nipah virus is a deadly pathogen for which there is currently no vaccine or treatment, GeneOne is eager to contribute our R&D expertise to this collaboration for the health of global citizens.”

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About GeneOne Life Science Inc.
GeneOne Life Science Inc., headquartered in Seoul, South Korea is an international biotechnology company driven by creativity and innovation and focused on developing nucleic acid encoded vaccines against infectious diseases to address global needs. Its small molecule portfolio of immunomodulators address diseases such as prevention of upper respiratory bacterial and viral diseases, and treatment of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

VGXI, Inc., GeneOne’s wholly-owned subsidiary located in Texas, is the global leading contract developer and manufacturer (CDMO) for cGMP DNA plasmid manufacture. The company is the leading contract manufacturer of DNA plasmids for use in vaccines, gene therapies, and cell therapies. VGXI has recently expanded into the manufacture and development of mRNA.

For more information, visit http://www.genels.com and http://www.vgxii.com.

About the Wistar Institute
The Wistar Institute, the first independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, marshals the talents of an international team of outstanding scientists through a culture of biomedical collaboration and innovation. Wistar scientists are focused on solving some of the world’s most challenging and important problems in the field of cancer, infectious disease, and immunology. Wistar has been producing groundbreaking advances in world health for more than a century. Consistent with its legacy of leadership in biomedical research and a track record of life-saving contributions in immunology and cell biology, Wistar scientists’ early-stage discoveries shorten the path from bench to bedside. wistar.org

Media Contacts:
GeneOne
Jackie Kwon
+82-2-3458-4032
jakwon@genels.com

The Wistar Institute
Darien Sutton
+1 215-898-3988
dsutton@wistar.org

Dr. Luis Montaner Visits Vietnam for Official Launch of AMOHI Clinical Trial 

Montaner, together with international delegations, attended the April 4 launch in Ho Chi Min City.

On April 4, tucked in a courtyard at the Go Vap District Health Center in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Min City, Dr. Luis J. Montaner joined local and international dignitaries to mark the start of the AMOHI Clinical Trial.

Spearheaded by Montaner, who leads Wistar’s HIV Research Program, the study is a consortium that includes Wistar, National Institute of Drug Abuse, University of Pennsylvania, IMEA Paris, Pasteur Institute, Ho Chi Minh City CDC and industry partners in Ireland and India. Together, they will investigate the impact of opioid use disorder (OUD) and medications for opioid use disorder (MOUDs) on immune recovery in response to antiretroviral therapy (ART) in HIV-infected people.

The launch was several years in the making. In 2019, The Wistar Institute received two major grants totaling more than $12 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, to fund the clinical trial in Vietnam and study related topics in Philadelphia. As COVID emerged, however, and nearly all services, including international travel, ground to a halt, the launch of the program was put on hold. Now, the effort is officially underway.

The overarching goal of the research is to investigate the role of opioid receptor involvement in modulating the levels of immune activation, retention on treatment and effects of different classes of MOUDs as first study to compare strategies head-to-head, in people living with HIV. Effectively controlling immune activation after ART in persons taking MOUDS can directly impact health and mortality.

Enrollment for the 3-year study opened on January 30, with a total of 225 planned enrollees, and is expected to close on February 1, 2026. The study will assess three different treatments to determine which is best for opioid use dependent individuals living with HIV: methadone, buprenorphine/naltrexone, and extended-release naltrexone.

“We will test the impact of a previously unknown interaction between substance abuse, HIV infection and MOUDs that may determine health outcomes only if the right MOUD medication is chosen,” explained Dr. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professor and director of the HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory at Wistar’s Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center. “We expect the results of this major collaborative effort, which has its hub in Philadelphia, to have broad clinical implications in informing the best pharmacologic strategy for the management of opioid use disease in HIV-infected people starting ART,” said Montaner. “This is directly relevant in light of the opioid epidemic ongoing in our nation and will help ensure that the right medications are used for both HIV and OUD, with the ultimate objective of saving lives in the future.”

With Philadelphia Foundation Grant, Wistar Advances COVID-19 and Monkeypox Vaccine Response in Vulnerable Populations

An $80,000 grant for The Wistar Institute’s HIV-1 Patient Partnership for Basic Research program from the Robert I. Jacobs Fund of Philadelphia Foundation not only advances ongoing basic research into ways to prevent, treat and ultimately cure HIV, but underscores the power of partnership between research centers and community-based organizations in fighting healthcare inequities faced by vulnerable populations.

The latest funding continues more than a quarter century of longstanding support by the Philadelphia Foundation for innovative HIV research advanced in the Wistar lab of Dr. Luis Montaner, a bench-to-bedside immunologist with a focus on HIV cure strategies and cancer.

With the recent COVID-19 pandemic and emergence of monkeypox in 2022, Dr. Montaner’s work has evolved to now include pilot studies on SARS-CoV-2 and monkeypox (MPX) vaccination outcomes in persons living with HIV as well as a study of persons with a prior history of monkeypox infection. Studies include persons living with HIV as well as other marginalized persons with substance use disorder.

The partnership pairs the innovative biomedical research happening in his Wistar lab with educational activities, community engagement and donor recruitment programs offered by clinical sites throughout the City of Philadelphia, including Philadelphia FIGHT’s Jonathan Lax Clinic and the John Bell Health Center; and, more recently, Prevention Point Philadelphia. The unique partnership between Wistar and Philadelphia Foundation inspired new federal criteria requiring greater community engagement across all Martin Delaney Collaboratories for HIV Cure Research programs by including a partnership with community-based organizations. The BEAT-HIV program based at The Wistar Institute has prioritized community engagement from the start due to long-standing support by the Philadelphia Foundation.

“Maintaining our Philadelphia community-based academic research collaboration is critical to our continued success, as this productive city-wide partnership distinguishes us among all HIV research centers in the U.S.,” said Dr. Montaner, director of Wistar’s HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory and leader of the HIV Research Program, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center. “Wistar is proud to be a partner with our community in research and thankful for all that have shared in this common vision for over 25 years.”

What We Now Know About Long Covid

Dr. Luis J. Montaner and lab find common, persistent symptoms for long-haulers by reviewing a multitude of research studies.

An international team of researchers led by The Wistar Institute’s lead scientist on HIV-cure research has published a review that codifies some of the key take-aways from a sample size of 2,833 patients with long COVID.

Led by Wistar’s Dr. Luis J. Montaner, director of the HIV-1 Immunopathogenesis Laboratory and leader of the HIV Research Program within the Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, and published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, the review offers supporting evidence that RS-CoV-2 (PASC), or long COVID, reflects tissue injuries to a patient’s system that underscores the vulnerabilities of individuals with the disease or the immunological consequence of their system responding to COVID.

“We conducted a review of all the available literature, summarizing what criteria we could define as long COVID that unifies patients across studies. We then took those unifying themes that identify commonalities in long COVID and identified targets for research we could potentially do something about,” Montaner said. “If you search long COVID, there are multiple different presentations, multiple different organ systems, and it is a challenge to come up with unifying principles of what disease process results in long COVID. We focused on identifying common principles of immunological disturbance and tissue injury mechanisms that could be supported by studies of long COVID to date.”

Many Wistar researchers are using machine learning to crunch complex data. That wasn’t the case here.

“It was more a more manual, elbow grease method,” Montaner said. “Each study used different definitions and data points but with similar populations. We listed all the studies, all the patients, all the definitions used, and the criteria we used to coalesce them. That is something that machines cannot do.”

Montaner was surprised to identify distinct patterns on how long COVID may affect the outcome of either acute injury or the long and projected injury to tissues.

They found mechanisms that contribute to symptoms such as inflammation, antigens that persist even after initial infection and microbial translocation (also known as leaky gut) all contribute to long COVID and can be affected by things like age and gender.

“Long COVID presents itself in many ways so it’s important to understand biologically what causes each type of symptom,” Montaner said. We also hope to address the ongoing debate between treating early against the virus versus treating the immune system against tissue injury caused by our own immune response. Our work will advance efforts to identify therapy strategies to avoid tissue injury leading to long COVID from that initial infection.”

This was not the first time a Wistar-led team has taken this roadmap approach.

“When COVID arrived in 2020, one of the first things we did was conduct a comprehensive review of all the reports that provided insight on the immunological modulation within the disease itself, highlighting what we knew and what was available,” Montaner said.

The objective now is to advance research again but on long COVID, noting that the prior 2020 review has been cited by world researchers more than 500 times since publication.

Wistar received a $4M grant from the State of Pennsylvania in 2021 to advance COVID research on vulnerable populations, in part because the organization has gained access to vulnerable populations through its work with patients living with HIV or people with substance use disorder in Center City Philadelphia, Kensington and other areas associated with drug use.

Unrestricted Planned Gift Supports Purchase of State-of-the-Science Instrumentation

Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil, and his team are making tremendous strides studying the ability of natural killer (NK) cells, a type of immune cell, to wipe out HIV-infected cells. Meanwhile, other groups within Wistar’s HIV Research Program, which Montaner leads, are in hot pursuit of alternative immunotherapy strategies, such as modified antibodies and CAR T cell therapies, to stamp out infected cells.

The research progress of all these labs was recently pole-vaulted forward thanks to a generous and visionary seven-figure unrestricted planned estate gift from Robert A. Fox (Bob). Bob, who passed away in 2021, helped transform Wistar into a leading biomedical research institute, through numerous donations that he and his wife, Penny, made and his two-decade role on Wistar’s Board of Trustees.

The new unrestricted gift enabled the purchase of three state-of-the-science advanced instrumentation and equipment. Flow cytometry is technology that isolates specific types of cells from tissue samples for analysis, along with a host of other customizable features, that will benefit and advance a wide range of Wistar scientists. Another is a technology platform consisting of two pieces of equipment for high-resolution imaging and spatial profiling of cellular structures and molecules at unprecedented speed and scale. The system will forge new insights into interactions between cancer and immune cells and the tumor microenvironment that nearly every lab at Wistar can deploy. The third is equipment, which is dedicated to the HIV Research Program, for a live cell analysis system that tracks cells growing in tissue culture plates.

“The investment is going to accelerate an excellence that is already here,” says Montaner, who is the vice president of Scientific Operations and associate director for Shared Resources at Wistar. “It is not a bet by any means. It is a sure thing that, by providing these tools, scientists can answer questions we couldn’t before, and answer the questions we were after better with added insights that will allow to move novel concepts towards clinical trials faster,” he explains.

The live cell analysis system will allow all laboratories in the Wistar HIV program to pinpoint exactly how well and how quickly various immunotherapy strategies are killing HIV-infected cells. The equipment also opens the door to being able to gather multiple timepoints on samples from HIV-infected patients, which are typically of very limited quantity.

The equipment is now bolstering research on developing combination immunotherapy as a cure for HIV for which the Montaner Lab and other groups in the BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory were awarded a five-year, $29.15M award from the NIH last year.

One of the most powerful aspects of an unrestricted gift is the time it saves. The traditional route that Wistar, and research institutes in general, take to obtain new, cutting-edge equipment is to apply for an NIH Shared Instrumentation Grant. But applications are only accepted once a year, and if grants are reviewed well and awarded, which has been the case for many of Wistar’s last submissions, it still takes one to two years to receive the equipment. Instead, an unrestricted gift entrusts Wistar to direct the support where it thinks it can have the greatest benefit and purchase equipment immediately.

“Unrestricted gifts allow Wistar scientists the capacity to quickly seize opportunities to remain competitive in an environment that is very dynamic when it comes to platforms that allow you to innovate,” Montaner says. “This gift advances what we are doing right away, while simultaneously increasing our competitive edge to grow our programs by writing new grant proposals that take advantage of the state-of-the-art capacities.”

In addition to the work in the HIV Research Program to help bring immunotherapies to the clinic, the investment will benefit Wistar’s research on cancer therapies and COVID-19 vaccines. “The impact is immediate with both present and future returns for all of these programs,” Montaner says.

Global Voices for HIV Advocacy and Cure Research Come Together at Wistar’s 26th Annual Jonathan Lax Lecture

This year, The Wistar Institute hosted the Annual Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture virtually, bringing together HIV scientists and activists on a global stage. Celebrating 26 years of continuous HIV research collaboration, the event was streamed on June 28, 2022, and saw attendees from North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The event opened with a music video by Moses “Supercharger” Nsubuga, HIV Outreach and HIV Cure Research Advocate and musician from Uganda and the Stigmaless Band performing their song “Optimistic”. It set a positive and engaging tone, reminding everyone that researchers and activists are working toward a common goal of HIV cures that prevent, control, and treat the virus.

The keynote speaker delivering the Lax Lecture was Mike McCune, M.D., Ph.D., head of the HIV Frontiers Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who emphasized the scientific progress toward curative interventions for HIV for all parts of the world. He highlighted efforts toward the development of gene therapies and “single shot” vaccine candidates and looking forward to clinical trials.

McCune expanded on his view of the ideal HIV cure. It would be available in an outpatient clinic; it would be given in one shot—like a vaccine—and durable for three years, yet a lifetime would be ideal; it must prevent or control infection but doesn’t require complete eradication; and it would be affordable for underdeveloped nations/low-income nations at $1000-2000 per administration. Also, McCune mentioned creating an affordable home testing kit, similar to COVID-19 test kits, for people to monitor if the disease is under control.

McCune shared, “We need to have a long-term vision and we need to have steps along the way that show we’re moving towards it.”

The event also hosted a panel centered around the question “What does an HIV cure mean to you?”. The global community discussion included Moses “Supercharger” from Uganda; Philister Adhiambo, Community Liaison Officer and HIV Cure Advocate from Kenya; and Michael Louella, Community Engagement Project Manager of the defeatHIV collaborative in the U.S. They all agreed that research can move forward if it prioritizes the community. Their strong perpectives came from the realities they see every day in their communities: participation in cure-directed studies, of being female with HIV/AIDS, living with HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries outside the U.S., remaining on antiretrovirals for decades not knowing the toll it takes on their bodies, and stigmatized people that lost opportunities because they were HIV positive.

“26 years ago, we set out to make a difference in HIV/AIDS treatment strategies through the most cutting-edge research, done shoulder-to-shoulder with clinicians, advocates, and people living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia,” said Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professor, leader of the HIV Research Program at The Wistar Institute, and co-principal investigator of the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory. “Our program has now grown beyond the region and country to gain a network across the globe. Our mission hasn’t changed, but we have grown into a global center to report the most groundbreaking HIV cure research together with community input.”

McCune stated, “Now is the time to move forward. Solving these challenges is not going to happen overnight, but it’s starting now.”

Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture Streams Globally

PHILADELPHIA—(June 23, 2022)—The Wistar Institute, a biomedical research leader in cancer, immunology, and infectious disease, announces that for the first time it will globally stream its 26th Annual Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture, celebrating 26 years of providing state-of-research updates to the community, on Tuesday, June 28 from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. EST. From across the globe, scientists, activists, advocates, and community leaders will come together online to share scientific strides and community progress on the global HIV cure agenda front.

Mike McCune, M.D., Ph.D., head of the HIV Frontiers Initiative and Biotechnology Accelerator Program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will deliver the 26th Annual Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture at this virtual, Wistar-hosted event. McCune’s lecture will highlight the ongoing efforts to reach an HIV cure that is accessible to every community across the world. This year’s global health theme will be echoed by guest speakers including Luis J. Montaner, D.V.M., D.Phil., Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Endowed Chair Professor, leader of the HIV Research Program at The Wistar Institute, and co-principal investigator of the BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory; Moses “Supercharger” Nsubuga, HIV advocate-musician-radio host; Jane Shull, chief executive officer of Philadelphia FIGHT; and others.

“26 years ago, we set out to provide clinicians, advocates, and people living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia a state-of-research update by bringing the most important developments affecting HIV/AIDS treatment strategies or cure-directed efforts,” said Montaner. “This year we are pleased to grow our community beyond the region and country and gain a network across the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Our mission hasn’t changed, but we have grown into a global center for the most groundbreaking HIV cure research.”

“To move scientific innovation forward for all humanity, we need greater inclusion and participation in the research process and collaborations of all kinds—across people, partnerships, sectors, countries, and beyond. These are a hallmark of Dr. Montaner’s HIV research program,” said Dario C. Altieri, M.D., Wistar president and CEO, director of the Ellen and Ronald Caplan Cancer Center and Robert and Penny Fox Distinguished Professor. “That collaborative might is embodied in the BEAT-HIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory. True impact is felt through their ability to articulate HIV cure goals to communities on an international scale, thereby bringing greater awareness to the goals of HIV cure research on the worldwide stage.”

The 2022 lecture is free and open to a global audience. Register here.

The Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture was established by The Wistar Institute and Philadelphia FIGHT after Mr. Lax’s death to honor his legacy by bringing distinguished speakers to a lay audience. Past speakers have included luminaries in the HIV/AIDS field such as Nobel Laureate Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, Ph.D., emeritus professor at the Institut Pasteur; David D. Ho, M.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University; and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Lecture honors Jonathan Lax, President of the Board of Philadelphia FIGHT, who died from complications due to AIDS in 1996. A successful businessman, Mr. Lax was a leading advocate for bringing information directly to people living with HIV and their families. He devoted personal resources throughout his life to helping people learn how to make decisions that would affect their health care as a person living with HIV. In the pre-internet era, Mr. Lax helped FIGHT sponsor many public forums to assure that people living with HIV/AIDS had access to up-to-date information delivered by recognized specialists.

The 2022 Jonathan Lax Memorial Award Lecture global sponsors are: Canadian HIV Cure Enterprise (CANCure), EU2Cure, Federation of African Immunological Societies (FAIS), Global Gene Therapy Initiative (GGTI), HIV Cure Africa Acceleration Partnership (HCAAP), Indian Immunology Society (IIS), Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Joint Adherent Brothers and Sisters Against AIDS (JABASA), Penn CFAR, Philadelphia FIGHT, Philadelphia Foundation, Sociedad Argentina de Infectología (SADI), and The Wistar Institute.

Editor’s Note: All awardees will receive the Jonathan Lax Memorial Award virtually. For more information or to cover the event, contact Darien Sutton at 215-870-2048 or dsutton@wistar.org.

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The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer, immunology, infectious diseases, and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the United States, Wistar has held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute since 1972. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. wistar.org

BEAT-HIV Delaney Collaboratory is part of an international consortium of more than 80 top HIV researchers from academia, industry, government, and nonprofit sectors working toward an HIV cure. The Collaboratory is leading three advanced trials to define effective ways to combine immunotherapy regimes towards a cure. BEAT-HIV.org

Philadelphia FIGHT is a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) offering HIV treatment and primary care to people living with HIV/AIDS and those at high risk, as well as community education and outreach programs on HIV, Hepatitis, and other topics impacting public health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, FIGHT has provided no barrier, walk-up COVID testing to over 19,000 people in low-income neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and partnered with ten community based organizations to bring COVID vaccines to these communities.