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Merck, Sangamo to Gain From $70 Million Boost in AIDS Cure Hunt

Merck & Co., Sangamo Biosciences Inc. and researchers searching for an AIDS cure will benefit from grants worth more than $70 million as the U.S. government strives for an end to the world’s deadliest infectious disease.

The National Institutes of Health awarded more than $14 million a year for five years to three groups of scientists to advance research aimed at curing AIDS, the Bethesda, Maryland- based agency said in a statement on its website today.

The biggest grant, of $6.3 million in the first year, will go to a group of 19 laboratories led by David Margolis, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He’s working with Merck to develop a line of drugs aimed at purging HIV from cells where it hides out, evading AIDS treatments and condemning patients to a lifetime of popping pills.

“The NIH has said for a while that it’s one of the top three priorities in AIDS research,” Margolis said in a telephone interview. “Now they’re putting their money where their mouth is.”

About 2.6 million people became infected with HIV in 2009, and more than 1.8 million people died with AIDS-related causes, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

The NIH awarded $4.2 million to scientists led by Steven Deeks at the University of California, San Francisco, who are also working with Merck, and $4.1 million to researchers led by Keith Jerome at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who are working with Richmond, California-based Sangamo.

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