The elimination of infectious diseases has been a goal within reach of researchers since the global eradication of smallpox was officially endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 1980. Now, the immunization schedule for newborns provides protection against up to 14 infections, effectively eliminating some of these pathogens from countries with these programs. However, waning immunity, non-human reservoirs, rapid viral evolution rates, mother to infant transmission, the growing resistance to vaccination in developed countries and political instability in non-developed countries have all proven to be roadblocks to control and eradication of infectious diseases and doctors need additional therapeutic tools in their toolbox to continue to effectively fight and stave off infections.
Under the leadership of Dr. Serhat Gumrukcu, in collaboration with other scientific researchers in the field, Seraph Research Institute is aiming to be among the world’s leading institutions in fighting against HIV/AIDS through the pursuit of novel and innovative prevention, treatment, and cure strategies.
Individuals with HIV that take their medicine, antiretroviral therapy (ART), as prescribed and maintain an undetectable viral load can live long, healthy lives and have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to a partner. In recent years ART has changed HIV-infection from a death sentence to a chronic disease. However, ART requires life-long therapy that is expensive and has the risk of significant side effects. In addition, drug resistance is growing, requiring new and often more costly products. From a person-centered approach, life-long therapy can be challenging and, unfortunately, stigma and discrimination remain strong throughout the world.
Despite childhood vaccination efforts and antiviral medications, the rate of hepatitis B infection remains constant in the U.S. with the CDC estimating over 20,000 acute infections each year and over 800,000 people living with chronic HBV infection. The World Health Organization estimates the global number of chronic HBV infections at over 250 million, with most infections in endemic areas occurring from mother to child at birth before a vaccination can be effective. While antiviral medications can control the replication of the virus, there is currently no cure and life-long antiviral therapy is required to prevent further liver damage and increased cancer risk. Curing this large human reservoir of chronically infected people is crucial to reducing HBV-associated morbidities and mortalities. Seraph Research Institute is spearheading this effort with a novel and proprietary mechanism of action that directly targets the virus at its source and doesn’t simply slow or halt replication like antivirals but actually destroys the viral blueprints in the liver.
It has been proven that gene-editing to knockdown the expression of CCR5 — a door HIV needs to enter, replicate within, and kill CD4+ T cells — in autologous hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) combined with transplantation can lead to a cure of HIV. However, the approaches currently available require an expensive and risky ablation of the immune system. Even with that drastic intervention, an insufficient number of gene-modified cells survive to achieve durable control of HIV.
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