As part of MoFo’s Pride Month celebration, the firm hosted a special presentation with key members of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA). While considered an introduction to the organization for many of the virtual presentation’s attendees, MoFo’s relationship with RFTCA goes back a number of years, with our shared mission to find a cure for AIDS through medical innovation and philanthropy.
RFTCA’s founder, Kambiz Shekdar, is a former Rockefeller University researcher and successful biotech entrepreneur who, in 2013, enlisted the help of former MoFo partner Chet Kerr in incorporating RFTCA under New York not-for-profit law, obtaining IRS tax-exempt status, and securing key patent protections for RFTCA technology. Former MoFo partner Karen Hagberg also helped secure key patents for RFTCA’s technology and recently succeeded Chet as RFTCA’s chair. Additionally, New York Litigation senior counsel Jim Hough and New York Corporate partner Dario de Martino serve on the organization’s board and nearly 20 other MoFo lawyers across different practice groups have contributed to the development of RFTCA.
According to the organization’s website, nearly 37 million people around the world are currently living with HIV—over half of whom are unaware they have it. Furthermore, the stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding HIV has caused testing hesitancy, delayed diagnoses, poorer standards of care, and a feeling of helplessness for those diagnosed with the disease. Though there have been flashpoints of success in finding a cure, RFTCA’s research is offering new hope for a permanent cure using stem cell and cellular engineering technology.
Their research is built around the discovery of a genetic mutation, known as CCR5-delta32, which provides a naturally-occurring resistance to HIV infection. Given this scientific breakthrough and the need to explore it further, the RFTCA formed an alliance of leaders whose mission is to raise awareness and funding, unite selected stakeholders, and act as a think tank to innovate a new model of science, medicine, economics, and health care.
During the discussion, the group discussed some recent alliances made with several high profile research organizations, such as the New York Stem Cell Foundation, Columbia University Medical Center, and Lehigh University, among others, who have joined their effort to develop a cure that is accessible and affordable for everyone.
Chet discussed how he first met Kambiz, recalling their conversation about “the Berlin patient,” the first-known case of a patient being cured of AIDS following treatment for leukemia. “He [Kambiz] was very excited about this because he knew that some of the technology that he had developed while he was at Rockefeller University could potentially be used to either replicate this [effect] or expand it in a new way, offering a cure for AIDS.”
Dario also asked Kambiz to talk about the basis of his research and the role that MoFo has played. “I came with promising technology and what Morrison & Foerster has done has been to lay the foundation to develop this in a way that, if proven successful, could actually result in a global cure,” remarked Kambiz.
The group also discussed how the current COVID-19 vaccinations might contribute to how the cure is delivered to patients, some of the new partnerships they’ve formed with major brands and influencers, the patents they’ve filed, and the grants still need to take their research to the next level of clinical trials.
“I am enthused about the recent momentum to cure AIDS,” states Kambiz. “The leading edge of medical philanthropy is often driven by two forces: patients and the NIH. Whereas stigma and shame continue to shy many patient advocates away, multiple celebrity spokespersons are starting to cast shame aside and major research funding organizations including NIH and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have recently prioritized a cure.”
To learn more about Research Foundation to Cure AIDS, or perhaps how you can contribute to finding a cure, visit RFTCA’s website.