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GlaxoSmithKline plans human trials for HIV cure

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GlaxoSmithKline is to kick off human trials for an HIV cure as soon as next summer, in a groundbreaking leap which could finally rid millions of the virus.

The British drugs giant will start testing therapies to essentially make it possible to wake up the virus within people's immune cells, bringing it out of hiding, so it can be targeted.

Dr Kimberly Smith, head of research & development at GSK's HIV health division ViiV Healthcare, said: "The idea is that you have to wake up the latent virus and try to get rid of it."

The therapy has already been tested on non-human primates, where it was successful in getting the cells to identify themselves.

Dr Smith said: "If it works in humans, then the question will be how do we clear it away once we've induced it. It's been a long battle against HIV and things are much better, people are living long lives. But, it's still a burden. It's still massively stigmatised. And so getting to a cure, we feel like it's within reach. Will we get to a cure in the 20, 30-year timeframe? I certainly hope so."

More than 38 million people are living with HIV around the world. In the UK, around 105,000 people have the virus.

GSK will announce the plans at an investor day on Monday as part of efforts to put HIV research front and centre of ambitions to bulk up its pipeline as it carves off its consumer health division to focus on pharmaceuticals and vaccines.

The break-up has attracted the attention of activist investors Elliott and BlueBell who have called for GSK to invest more in research and development.

The company is a major player in the HIV market, and is currently responsible for around half of all the treatments given to people who have the virus.

Those therapies have become longer-lasting in recent years, and one of its treatments is injected every other month, rather than taken as daily pills. GSK is working to make these intervals even longer, to ultimately mean people can receive an injection every six months.

GSK said it was also developing longer-acting preventative drugs for people who do not have HIV but are at high-risk, and currently need to take daily pills to protect them from contracting the virus.