Counting Down for a Cure: A Look at amfAR's Latest Impact Grants

The Foundation for AIDS Research, better known as amfAR, announced its $100 million Countdown to a Cure initiative in 2014 with the goal of finding a “scientific basis” for a cure for AIDS by the year 2020. Since launching the campaign, the foundation put up $20 million to establish the amfAR institute for HIV Cure Research at a yet-to-be-determined major research institution. The remaining $80 million is earmarked strictly for research grants. amfAR offers five types of grants in this regard, the largest being impact grants.

Related: Big Move by amfAR: $100 Million for an AIDS Cure

amfAR’s impact grants offer up to $2 million over four years to researchers who are exploring the further development of scientific concepts that are currently supported by preliminary data and show some real potential leading to a cure. The organization recently announced the three research teams to receive impact grants of $2 million each.

A team of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, led by Dr. Dan Baruouch, received $2 million to support their work testing combinations of antibodies that kill latently infected cells. This work also includes investigating a new drug that can destroy the HIV virus in latent cells.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, led by Dr. Timothy Henrich, also received a $2 million impact grant in support of their work in innovative interventions to help restore normal immune function among HIV-positive patients.

Finally, Dr. Sharon Lewin of the University of Melbourne, Australia received a $2 million grant to further explore pharmaceuticals that block “immune checkpoints” as effect agents against the HIV virus. Dr. Lewin has already experienced success in the same type of treatment as it relates to cancer.

amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Rowena Johnston, Ph.D., calls the grants a “departure for amfAR and an important pillar of our cure research strategy.” There a couple of ways in which amfAR is diverging from its historical grantmaking here.

According to amfAR Chief Executive Officer Kevin Robert Frost, these grants are among the largest the organization has ever awarded. Additionally, outside of the Countdown to a Cure initiative, amfAR’s support typically goes toward HIV/AIDS research for which preliminary data is lacking. The latest impact grants were awarded to researchers conducting work in which the preliminary groundwork has been laid and the amfAR grants are to further their basic, animal, and clinical studies.

Related: amfAR: Grants for Global Health

Among HIV/AIDS foundations, amfAR is among the more glamorous and well known—mainly due to the host of its celebrity ambassadors and those that sit on its board. In a typical year, amfAR awards $20 to $25 million in HIV/AIDS grants a year, dedicating some $7 to $10 million toward research, advocacy, and treatment in developing countries.