HIV cure hope after virus ‘disappears’ from UK trial patient

A British HIV patient has shown remarkable progress after undergoing a new treatment to cure him of the disease.
A British HIV patient has shown remarkable progress after undergoing a new treatment to cure him of the disease.
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A British HIV patient has shown “remarkable” progress after undergoing a new treatment to cure him of the fatal disease, experts have claimed.

Scientists treating the 44-year-old patient described the trial as “one of the first serious attempts at a full cure” for the virus, which affects more than 4,800 Scots.

The anonymous man is the first of 50 people to complete the trial, created by five British universities, using a ‘kick and kill’ approach to expose and destroy the virus.

Early tests showed there was no detectable HIV virus present in his blood, although the patient will have to wait months to find out if the disease has been permanently wiped out.

Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Institute for Health Research Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure, told a Sunday newspaper: “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.”

There is currently no cure for HIV, which can shelter from current drugs by hiding in dormant cells in the immune system, then later producing thousands of copies of itself.

Antiretroviral therapies (Art) cost the health service £380,000 per patient’s lifetime.

The new therapy hopes to wipe out the virus entirely by boosting the immune system’s ability to find these infected cells using a vaccine, then administering a drug called Vorinosat that awakens the dormant cells.

This causes the infected cells to start producing HIV proteins, which act as a red flag for the immune system.

Professor Sarah Fidler, a consultant physician at Imperial College London, said: “This therapy is specifically designed to clear the body of all HIV viruses, including dormant ones.

“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 patient, who is a social worker living in London, said: “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.”

Patient campaigners welcomed the new findings but urged caution as it could take many years for a cure to be widely available.

Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, an HIV charity which has centres in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and Dumfries, said: “HIV treatment currently focuses on reducing the amount of HIV in the blood to ‘undetectable’ levels, meaning the virus cannot be transmitted.

“However there is still no cure for HIV, and we welcome this ambitious study which looks to eradicate the virus completely from the bodies of people living with HIV, instead of suppressing it.

“It’s very early days, but we hope the results will help future studies on the way to finding a cure in years to come.”