GlaxoSmithKline, which decided last week to retain its HIV drugs business rather than spin it off, will collaborate with US scientists in developing a cure for AIDS.
Until recently, many researchers would have dismissed out of hand any suggestion of a cure for the disease caused by HIV, which infects 35 million people worldwide.
However, GSK plans to tap into the latest expertise by creating an HIV Cure centre with the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and establishing a new jointly-owned company.
The drug maker said today it would invest $20 million to help fund the work for an initial five years.
Scientists would study a number of cure options, including a so-called "shock-and-kill" strategy developed at UNC, which unmasked dormant HIV hiding in white blood cells, to enable it to be attacked by a boosted immune system.
This is expected to prove a protracted affair, say commentators.
"In the next five to 10 years we should gain more knowledge around the various mechanisms that could contribute to a cure and maybe in the next 10 to 20 years we can really bring these modalities together," Zhi Hong, GSK's infectious diseases head, told Reuters.
The HIV Cure centre will be located on the UNC campus with exclusive focus on finding a cure for HIV / AIDS. The business side of the partnership would be handled by new company, Qura Therapeutics, which would include intellectual property, commercialisation, manufacturing and governance, UNC said in a news release.
''The excitement of this public-private partnership lies in its vast potential,'' said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L Folt. ''Carolina has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research for the last 30 years. This first of its kind, joint-ownership model is a novel approach toward finding a cure, and we hope it serves as an invitation to the world's best researchers and scientists. Today, Carolina's best are taking another major step in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.''
''Like UNC, GSK has a long legacy of HIV research success. From the development of the world's first breakthrough medicine for HIV patients in the 1980s, to our leadership in the market today through ViiV Healthcare, we're continuously challenging ourselves to meet the needs of patients,'' GSK CEO Sir Andrew Witty said.