Five people with HIV are currently free of detectable virus – and daily drugs – thanks to a new vaccine-based therapy, reports the New Scientist
This therapy gives the immune system “the tools to flush out HIV, meaning daily drugs can be ditched.”
Antiretroviral drugs (ART) are essential for most people with HIV. The drugs are used each day “to stop the virus from replicating and causing damage to their immune system.”
These are required to be taken throughout one's lifetime as “the virus can hide away in tissues such as lymphoid and gut cells.” The virus has a tendency to re-emerge from cells – so stopping the use of ART becomes risky for patients.
As much as ART is “effective” it is also expensive, takes a long time to work and comes with “nasty side effects.”
In 2014, 24 people then recently diagnosed with HIV were given two vaccines developed by Tomas Hanke and his colleagues at the University of Oxford. This was part of a trial that Beatriz Mothe of the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, and her colleagues started. All the participants were also given ART, then monitored “to see whether the vaccines induced a strong immune response.”
A booster of the vaccines was given to all 15 of them this year and, finally, they were given three doses of romidepsin – “a cancer drug that has shown potential for flushing HIV out of hiding.” Eventually, all of them got another vaccine booster and stopped ART doses.
The virus rapidly came back in 10 of the participants so they had to go back to ART medication. However, five of the participants “no longer needed to take the drugs because their immune systems could suppress the virus unaided.”
“One person has been off ART for seven months now. The other four have been free of detectable virus for six, 14, 19 and 21 weeks, respectively,” writes the New Scientist.
Mothe and her colleagues are currently working on to find out why “two-thirds of the group didn’t respond to the therapy.”