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Two scientists working in the HIV cure centre, US

How are we redefining research in HIV?

Shari Gordon, a scientific leader working in the HIV Cure Center at the University of North Carolina, has one focus: finding a cure for HIV/AIDS.

In 2015, we struck an innovative public-private partnership with the University of North Carolina to establish the HIV Cure Center, a laboratory which focuses on the latest scientific approaches to fighting HIV.

This unique partnership aims to redefine the traditional way of conducting research, creating a new model to seek the breakthroughs needed to tackle this extraordinary global health challenge. Here Shari tells us about her journey to the HIV Cure Center, and the outlook for innovation in HIV treatment.

Shari at work in the GSK laboratory
Shari Gordon at work in the laboratory

What led you to this career?

I am originally from Jamaica, and at about 13, my grandmother got very sick. I was taking care of her and felt this need to learn more about science. I didn’t really understand what was going on with her and I didn’t fully know how to best help her.  That really drove me to study medicine; I wanted to be able to take care of people like my grandmother.

Years later, when I was completing my Master’s degree, I decided that I wanted to be the person who helped develop different medicines to treat people.

What makes the collaboration between GSK and UNC so important?

Public-private partnerships such as this bring together the best of both worlds. We’re more likely to find a cure by sharing our knowledge and resources with each other than working alone.  

To have the best chance at finding a cure, you need to get the basic science that is done in academia and put that together with the work being done at industry level, such as drug development and the ability to test new drugs.

Merging the best of academia with the best of pharma enables a continuous and highly collaborative ‘from bench to bedside’ approach, whereby clinical research from the ‘bench’ is used to develop new ways to treat patients at the ‘bedside’.

These types of public-private partnerships, in my opinion, are where breakthroughs such as a cure for HIV could really happen.

What motivates you?

I am always touched when we get the opportunity to meet patients. They want to participate in our research studies, better understand how the virus affects their immune system, and find out how we are trying to improve their health. A cure may not be found in their lifetime, but patients are so committed to being a part of research that could one day lead to a cure. 

On the worst days in labs, when our experiments feel like they are not working, the thought that what we’re doing could mean ridding the world, and that patient, of this disease, is really what keeps us all going.

What’s next for HIV research?

Over the last 30 years or so, we have made incredible advances in the field of HIV. From a time when we really didn’t understand what caused the disease, and what the virus was, to now, where we have effective therapies that can control the replication of the virus.

This increased understanding, alongside the public/private partnerships like the one we have with UNC, ensures we are moving ever closer to being able to completely eradicate the HIV virus from the body.