Ottawa docs part of $8.7m project aimed at wiping out HIV

An $8.7 million research project looking to cure HIV will include a team of local doctors.

“We’ve made incredible advances in HIV research and treatment, but the job is not yet done,” said Ottawa Hospital Research Institute HIV specialist Dr. Jonathan Angel.

While current treatments are effective, “many have serious side effects, they are very expensive, and they cannot completely eliminate the virus.”

The goal is to understand how HIV hides inside certain cells during treatment, “and to find a way to kill those infected cells. If we can do this, we’ll be poised to have a cure,” he said.

Researchers from the Ottawa Hospital, CHEO and the University of Ottawa — including Dr. John Bell and Dr. Ashok Kumar — are contributing to the global effort to end AIDS.

“This project provides a platform to tackle key issues in new ways, using new tools and new ideas,” said uOttawa professor Marc-Andre Langlois.

“This is definitely a very promising and aggressive initiative for finding a cure for HIV.”

The Canadian HIV Cure Enterprise is based in Montreal and led by Dr. Eric A. Cohen.

Funding was awarded through the Canadian Initiative for HIV Cure Research, a partnership between the federally funded Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, and the International AIDS Society.

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose made the announcement Thursday, noting an additional $2 million will support a project focused on curing children who were infected through pregnancy.

“There are huge personal, societal and economic costs to the global HIV epidemic,” said Dr. Marc Ouellette, a scientific director with the CIHR.

Local researchers will work on human clinical trials of a therapeutic HIV vaccine and an immune-stimulating protein, harnessing oncolytic or cancer-fighting viruses to attack HIV-infected cells, and identifying factors promoting immune evasion in chronically-infected patients.

“With HIV on the rise, it is more important than ever to end AIDS globally and we know that through research and collaboration, we have a chance to bring this epidemic to its knees,” said CANFAR president and CEO Christopher Bunting.

More than 71,000 Canadians were infected with HIV, according to 2011 statistics, an 11% increase from four years earlier, and at least 35 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.

By mid-2013, 30 cases of HIV were reported to Ottawa’s public health unit.

Sunday marks World AIDS Day.

Twitter: @kellyroche6

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