The first of 50 patients to complete a trial for a new HIV treatment in the UK is showing no signs of the virus in his blood.
The initial signs are very promising, but it’s too soon to say it’s a cure just yet: the HIV may return, doctors warn, and the presence of anti-HIV drugs in the man’s body mean it’s difficult to tell whether traces of the virus are actually gone for good.
HIV has long proved very difficult to treat because the disease can hide in dormant cells where the immune system can’t get to it.
This new therapy is the first aimed at destroying HIV in every part of the body, and it works by combining a drug that reactivates these dormant HIV cells with a vaccine designed to help the immune system find and kill them.
A drug called Vorinostat is used, activating the dormant HIV cells left over, so the immune system can fight them too. The drug combination being used in this trial – which is being tested on 50 HIV patients – could mean we have a more effective treatment on our hands.
To date the only person considered to have been cured of HIV is American Timothy Ray Brown, who was given a bone marrow transplant from a donor known to be resistant to HIV. The stem cells he was given rebuilt his immune system, eradicating both the HIV and his acute myeloid leukaemia at the same time.