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 UK universities.
The therapy is combining standard antiretroviral drugs with another one that reactivates dormant HIV and a vaccine that induces the immune system to destroy the infected cells. Antiretoviral drugs alone are highly effective at stopping the virus from reproducing but do not eradicate the disease, so must be taken for life.
The 44-year-old Briton is the first among 50 people to complete a trial of the treatment, designed by scientists and doctors from Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, University College London and King's College. Early tests show no signs of the virus in his blood, the Sunday Times reported. If successful, it offers hope of an irreversible cure for millions of people infected with the virus.
But the person will have to wait for some months before confirmation on whether the treatment has permanently cleared the disease. It is possible that the absence of the virus could be down to the conventional drugs that he has also been taking which can temporarily clear the body of the disease. "My last blood test was a couple of weeks ago and there is no detectable virus," the patient said.
HIV is able to hide from the immune system in dormant cells where sophisticated testing cannot find it, and therefore resist therapy. The treatment endeavours to trick the virus into emerging from its hiding places and then trigger the body's immune system to recognise it and attack it, an approach that has been called "kick and kill". The new therapy works in two stages. First, a vaccine helps the body recognise the HIV-infected cells so it can clear them out. Secondly, a new drug called Vorinostat activates the dormant Tcells so they can be spotted by the immune system.