If a group of British scientists succeed, the AIDS-causing HIV virus might soon become curable, and a 44-year-old British citizen could become the first person to be completely rid of the virus. The breakthrough is a result of a new therapy that targets the disease even in its dormant state. It is the first treatment created to track down and destroy HIV in every part of the body.
The patient, the first of 50 to undergo the trial, told the results of his last blood test a couple weeks ago showed “no detectable virus.” However, he cautioned this could be due to the anti-retroviral therapies he is also taking. It will take a few more months before doctors can confirm whether or not the treatment has permanently eliminated the disease in his body.
“I took part in the trial to help others as well as myself. It would be a massive achievement if, after all these years, something is found to cure people of this disease. The fact that I was a part of that would be incredible,” he told.
Scientists told that presently the virus is completely undetectable in the man’s blood, although that could be a result of regular drugs. However if the dormant cells are also cleared out it could represent the first complete cure. Trial results are expected to be published in 2018.
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” said Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure. “We are exploring the real possibility of curing HIV. This is a huge challenge and it’s still early days but the progress has been remarkable.”
The UK Telegraph explains the new treatment is a two-stage approach. “Firstly, a vaccine helps the body recognize the HIV-infected cells so it can clear them out. Secondly, a new drug called Vorinostat activates the dormant T-cells so they can be spotted by the immune system.”
The Terrence Higgins Trust, a HIV-focused UK charity, sent a statement to Wired.co.uk saying while there remains no cure for HIV, they welcome the “ambitious” study focused on eradicating the virus.
Science takes a long time, of course. The remaining participants will all need to respond to the treatment and then it will take five years to study each patient to ensure the immunodeficiency virus has been eliminated.
As Imperial College London professor Sarah Fidler said, “It has worked in the laboratory and there is good evidence it will work in humans too but we must stress we are still a long way from any actual therapy.”
The new trial is being backed by the UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS) because it could save millions by removing the need to treat HIV patients with anti-retroviral therapy, which costs around 380,000 pounds per person over their lifetime.