An HIV vaccine developed at the University of Oxford has kept 5 out of 15 patients completely free of HIV. One of the patients has already been clear for 7 months.
AIDS affects over 36.7 million people. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the most common treatment, which kills those cells in which the virus is active. However, HIV can remain inactive and undetectable inside T-cells for long periods of time, resurging when ART is stopped.
A trial run at the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona is showing promising results for an HIV vaccine that could get rid of expensive ART and its side effects. The therapy, developed at the University of Oxford, primes the immune system to attack cells infected with HIV. The vaccine proved in a previous trial that it can induce an immune response thousands of times stronger than other vaccines.
The ongoing BCN02 trial adds three doses of romidepsin between the initial and the final vaccine boosts. This cancer drug can activate hidden HIV reservoirs, making it easier for the immune system to eliminate latent viruses.
So far, 5 out of 15 patients in the trial have been free of HIV without taking ART for weeks. One of them has already been clear for 7 months, and the group will keep monitoring them to see for how long the therapy is effective. Researchers are now trying to understand why the therapy works so well in some patients and not in the rest, which had to resume ART when their viral levels went up again.
The therapy is showing promising potential, at least for those patients that respond positively, but it’s still early to celebrate an HIV cure. However, the efforts and resources invested in finding a functional cure for HIV are tremendous, and a cure might be available as soon as 2020.
The UK CHERUB collaboration between 5 top British universities is also developing an HIV cure that aims to get rid of hidden latent HIV viruses, and the first patient has been cleared from HIV. Abivax, in Paris, is developing “one of the world’s most advanced functional HIV Cures.” InnaVirVax, also in France, is aiming to be the first to launch a functional HIV cure as well.
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