A British man could become the first person in the world to be cured of HIV using a new therapy designed by a team of scientists from five United Kingdom universities.
The unnamed 44-year-old is the first of 50 people to complete a trial of the ambitious treatment, designed by scientists and doctors from five of Britain’s leading universities.
The Managing Director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, UK, Mark Samuels, said the treatment was the first therapy created to have tracked down and destroyed HIV in every part of the body, including in the dormant cells that evade current treatments.
The scientists told The Sunday Times of London that presently “the virus is completely undetectable in the man’s blood, although that could be as a result of regular drugs.”
However, if the dormant cells are also cleared out it could represent the first complete cure.
Samuels said, “This is one of the first serious attempts at a full cure for HIV. 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 trial is being undertaken by researchers from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, London, University College, London and King’s College, London.
HIV is so difficult to treat because it targets the immune system, splicing itself into the DNA of T-cells so that they not only ignore the disease, but turn into viral factories which reproduce the virus.
Current treatments, called anti-retroviral therapies, target that process but they cannot spot dormant infected T-cells.
The new therapy works in two stages. Firstly, a vaccine helps the body to recognise 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.
A consultant physician at Imperial College, London, Prof. Sarah Fidler, said the new therapy was specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones.
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.
“We will continue with medical tests for the next five years and at the moment we are not recommending stopping ART but in the future, depending on the test results, we may explore this.”
Only one person has ever been cured of HIV. He is Timothy Brown, also known as the ‘second’ Berlin patient, who received a stem cell transplant from a patient with natural immunity to HIV in 2008.