Potential breakthrough for HIV treatment

By Patrick Corby

A new study by Dr Asier Sáez-Cirión, of the Pasteur Institute’s unit for regulation of retroviral infections in Paris, has indicated that the same rapid anti-retroviral drug (ARV) treatment given to the “functionally cured” child of the HIV virus on 3rd March could now be extended to 15% of all HIV patients.

Rapid treatment of the HIV virus could cure 10-15% of sufferers.

Rapid treatment of the HIV virus could cure 10-15% of sufferers.

The Pasteur Institute’s small study of 70 people began a course of ARVs between 35 days and ten weeks after becoming infected with HIV. Fourteen patients, known as the “Visconti cohort”, out of the initial 70 had no resurgence of the HIV virus after three years of the AVD treatment.

Usually when HIV ARV medication is stopped, viral levels increase rapidly around deep reservoirs that have formed in the patient’s system but in rapid treatment, as in these two studies, these reservoirs are eradicated before deep infection.

Asier Sáez-Cirión told NewScientist: “There are three benefits to early treatment,” in that “it limits the reservoir of HIV that can persist, limits the diversity of the virus and preserves the immune response to the virus that keeps it in check”.

The “Visconti Cohort” group contains ten men and four women, all of whom still have traces of the HIV in their system, but do not need medication to keep the disease in check. All 14 patients have gone seven years now without additional medication.

Asier goes on to say: “It’s not eradication, but they can clearly live without pills for a very long period of time.”

The recent Mississippi case was reported at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections – a gathering of 4,000 infectious disease researchers – two weeks ago. The young girl has become the first person to be functionally cured of the HIV virus by rapid ARV treatment.

Dr Andrew Freedman, a reader in infectious diseases at Cardiff University School of Medicine, has cautioned that most patients diagnosed with HIV find out on average five years later than the virus actually takes hold, and that although not a cure, these latest advances are certainly a progress.

“The presumption is that they’ve started treatment very early and the virus hasn’t spread to so many of the long-term reservoirs and that’s why it works,” Freedman explained.

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