The first patient being treated in a new HIV study has shown “remarkable” results, with no sign of the virus after initial treatment.
Immunologists at five of the UK’s leading universities, along with the NHS, are combining antiretroviral drugs with a drug that reactivates dormant HIV and a vaccine that stimulates the immune system, in an attempt to destroy the cells carrying the virus. The Sunday Times has reported an initial success for the test.
The blood of 44-year-old male social care worker from London, the first of 50 people involved in the study, showed no detectable signs of HIV after the treatment took place.
“This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV,” Mark Samuels, the managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, told the newspaper. “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.”
Dr Sarah Fidler, an honorary consultant physician in HIV at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones.”
While the treatment could eventually provide a cure for the virus, there is still a significant amount of testing needed to be conducted. Immunologists from the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, University College London and King’s College London, will continue medical tests with the method for the next five years.
For example, the antiretroviral drugs taken by patients – which are effective at stopping the virus from reproducing but must be taken for life – are still going to be given to the 44-year-old despite the successful results. Medication may be stopped later in the study if results continue to be successful, the team behind the work has said.
In 2014 there were 36.9 million living with HIV around the world. The figure, according to stats from the World Health Organisation, is an increase from 29.8m who lived with the virus in 2001. Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of those with HIV. Overall around 35m people have died from the virus and only one person is known to have been cured.
The virus has been particularly tricky for scientists to find a cure for as it is able to sit in a dormant state in cells. The treatment developed by the UK scientists lures the virus from its dormant state, then triggers a response from the body’s immune system, which then attacks it.