The National Institutes of Health has given a five-year, $5-million grant to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and its partners, to help find new ways to treat AIDS and HIV and reduce the number of infections in the U.S.

Together, they’ll launch the Texas Developmental Center for AIDS Research, or Texas D-CFAR for short. While new and better treatments will be a focus, the ultimate goal is to find a cure, said Deepak Kaushal, professor and director of the Southwest National Primate Research Center. Kaushal will be one of three co-directors running the center.

Texas remains an epicenter of the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, more than 110,000 Texans were living with HIV as of 2018.

When the AIDS epidemic broke out in the U.S. more than three decades ago, most patients lived in major cities along the East and West Coasts, like Boston, New York, and San Francisco, Kaushal said. Today, the majority of cases are concentrated in the South, including Texas.

The new center will not have physical address, but will exist as a collaboration between Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and Texas Biomed in San Antonio.

“Research conducted [elsewhere] does have an impact here, … but to me, clinical management improvements in Houston and research in San Antonio will have a more direct impact on our Texas population,” Kaushal said.

Dr. Tom Giordano, medical director of HIV Services and the Thomas Street Health Center in the Harris Health System, will be the center’s principal investigator.

“There are fewer people becoming newly infected by HIV in many places in the U.S., but the decline in Texas has been slower,” Giordano said in a press release announcing the award earlier this month. “We are fortunate to get this grant to try to accelerate the efforts in Texas.”

The collaboration is great news for efforts to decrease the number of HIV cases in Texas, said Cherise Rohr-Allergrini, CEO of San Antonio AIDS Foundation.

“Texas does have one of the highest rates of new infections,” Rohr-Allergrini said. “We’ve brought it down in recent years with intense efforts, including the 90/90/90 Fast Track Cities program. But it’s not enough yet. It is essential that basic research on HIV be connected to clinical practice to improve outcomes.”

Research from the new center will include better understanding the biological processes behind HIV and AIDS, testing new drugs in labs and in animal models, and hopefully progressing to introducing new treatments to the market, said Kaushal. 

“[Existing treatments] only suppress the virus temporarily, and that’s the nature of the virus, it integrates into our genomic DNA and can come back out of there,” he said. “Therefore, we need better drugs.”

The team of researchers hope the developmental center will lead to a permanent Center for AIDS Research, or a CFAR, being planted in Texas, but it’s a competitive process, Kaushal said.

“Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and those from Texas Biomed have long been advocating for [a CFAR] and we’ve actually submitted our application multiple times,” he explained. … “You get funded for five years, and then if you perform well during those five years with that money, you could potentially compete for an actual CFAR.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...