Lab Canada

$5M funding for project aimed at eliminating HIV/AIDS

Vancouver, BC – With funding from Genome BC and others, a new $5M project aims to develop an improved HIV drug-resistance test, real-time drug resistance surveillance and better methods for personalizing treatment of HIV based on each patient’s unique DNA.

“The new resistance test will make the therapy more effective in reducing the amount of HIV in the blood, which benefits patients, and lessen the chances of spreading the virus,” says Dr. Richard Harrigan, project leader, Director of the Laboratory Program and head of genomics research at the BC Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Based on the latest DNA sequencing technology, the test will detect drug-resistant HIV strains that existing ones cannot.

“This test will be a better, more sensitive tool that takes less time to get results and is less expensive,” says Harrigan, whose past work has been instrumental in the development of viral resistance testing in Canada and internationally.

The researchers will develop new personalized tests, based on a patient’s DNA, to guide therapy as well and avoid serious side effects. The two types of tests—viral and human genomic—will help doctors prescribe the best drug cocktail for each patient, one that works well and minimizes side effects that may cause patients to stop treatment.

“We plan to expand the number of human genomic markers tested so we can predict side effects for all classes of HIV drugs. Side effects drive whether or not patients take these drugs and stick with them,” says Harrigan.

The research team is also creating a new early warning system to monitor and map drug resistance. It will pinpoint geographic or population “hotspots” where resistance rates are highest and the risk of transmission greatest.

“We’ll be able to monitor the emergence of drug resistance in real time and identify patients with newly acquired drug-resistant strains faster. We can then intervene proactively and pre-emptively so the resistance doesn’t become widespread,” says Dr. Julio Montaner, co-leader of the project, Director of the BC-CfE and the Director of AIDS Research and Head of the Division of AIDS in the UBC Faculty of Medicine.

All HIV patients in Canada through their doctors will have access to the new test at the BC-CfE labs. The technology will be shared with labs globally, so it can be adopted worldwide.

Additional funders for the project include Genome Canada, Genome Quebec, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, ViiV Healthcare and the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation.