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Fred Hutch researcher and HIV treatment pioneer Dr. Larry Corey. (Fred Hutch Photo)

Immunotherapy — using the body’s immune system to fight disease — has already made great strides in cancer treatment, with the Seattle region emerging as an epicenter for the approach. But could this technology also treat HIV, a disease that is hallmarked by a weakened immune system?

Dr. Larry Corey — a pioneering HIV researcher and former president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — is hoping that CAR T cell immunotherapy could be the key to cures for HIV patients. And his work just got a $2.6 million boost.

The grant comes from California-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. It will allow Corey and his team to investigate whether the CAR T cell therapies being developed at Fred Hutch could overcome challenges to treating and curing HIV, Corey said in a news release.

The Gilead project will complement Corey’s existing research on HIV immunotherapy, which he has been conducting through the DefeatHIV project, a collaboration funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Corey said in the release that the immune deficiency created by HIV makes it difficult for a person’s body to attack the virus. CAR T cell therapy genetically alters the body’s T cells — immune agents that attack invading viruses — and this approach could overcome the dampers that HIV places on the body’s immune system.

“We think that we can bring the technology of genetically altering T cells, as is being used with cancer immunotherapy, to HIV,” he said.

For the Gilead project, Corey will work with researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s, Oregon Health & Science University, and Fred Hutch spinout Juno Therapeutics, a biotech company developing immunotherapy treatments for cancer patients.

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