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Scripps Florida Scientist Awarded $3.4 Million for HIV/AIDS Research

Grant Will Fund Study of New Drug Target and Treatment Options

JUPITER, FL, November 30, 2011 – A scientist at The Scripps Research Institute has been awarded $3.4 million from the National Institutes of Health to study the mode of action and the therapeutic potential of a new compound that blocks a step of HIV replication not targeted by current therapies.

Susana Valente, an assistant professor at Scripps Florida, is the principal investigator of the five-year grant. Valente will lead research into the viral protein known as Tat, a potent activator of HIV gene expression, and a Tat inhibitor that is extremely effective at reducing viral output from acutely and chronically infected cells in culture. Most antiretroviral compounds only block new infections; a Tat inhibitor can reduce viral replication from cells already infected.

“Our main goal with this grant is to fully understand the underlying mechanism of this new compound’s inhibitory strength against Tat,” Valente said, “and then to evaluate its therapeutic potential in animal models. If that’s successful, the next obvious step would be to optimize it for use in human clinical trials.”

Despite recent advances, HIV/AIDS continues its deadly global march, affecting more than 35 million individuals worldwide. The virus stubbornly persists in infected subjects despite Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART). This residual viremia is the major hurdle for HIV eradication. Valente’s newly identified Tat inhibitor defines a novel class of anti-viral drugs that could potentially inhibit viral production from stable reservoirs and reduce viral persistency during HAART.

“Initially, we though this compound was targeting another protein, but the data suggested that it was actually an inhibitor of Tat,” Valente said. “We soon discovered we had a powerful inhibitor of HIV-1 transcription in our hands—and that’s where we are today. This work was made possible by the great ongoing collaboration with Professor Phil Baran of Scripps California.”

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs more than 2,500 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates and 20 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering or Medicine—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. In October 2016, TSRI announced a strategic affiliation with the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), representing a renewed commitment to the discovery and development of new medicines to address unmet medical needs. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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Susana Valente, Ph.D.
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images/valente_susana/valente_susana.jpg