Archive for March, 2011

California Antiviral Foundation

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

My friend John Fiddes invited us to the launch of the California Antiviral Foundation, the board of which he is a Director.  It was a remarkable evening, in a home atop San Francisco, with a view of the Golden Gate, and attended by many leading scientists whose names I have seen in Science magazine over the years.

The Foundation is dedicated to funding research aimed at developing new drugs to combat viral diseases, beginning with HIV.  It is based on findings from Dr. Jay Levy, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, whose lab has identified a populating with innate immunity to HIV.  These patients have a protein, dubbed CAF, for CD8+ Cell Antiviral Factor, which disables HIV.  The protein is present in very small quantities, so the first challenge for the Foundation is to find it.

Over the years, John had led companies and research efforts aimed at discovering novel antibiotic agents.  He had often spoken about  innate immunity, the ancient molecular-based system, as opposed to the modern cellular immunity.  So I was intrigued by Dr. Levy’s remarks that he knew of no viral disease, other than measles, without a small population that remains asymptomatic.  He described how development of techniques to discover low abundance proteins, such as CAF, could show the path to treatments for a broad range of viral diseases.

Then he talked about the HIV-infected patients he has seen over the years, and described how those few percent of ‘non-progressors’ sparked this work.  He introduced two of those patients, who movingly and eloquently described their journeys from being tested to recognizing they were somehow different, to becoming bound to Dr. Levy’s research program through monthly blood samples.  Their good fortune was the inspiration for California Antiviral Foundation.