Early Vaccine Trials Left Five HIV Patients ‘virus-free’ With No Need For Daily Drugs

Two new HIV vaccines were combined with a drug usually used to treat cancer by researchers.

Five HIV patients had the virus successfully suppressed after being treated by a new vaccine-based treatment which raised hopes that with further research, the treatment could prevent Aids without the need for daily drugs.

Innovative research:

In the trial, which was conducted over three years at the IrsiCaixa Aids Research Institute in Barcelona, researchers combined two innovative HIV vaccines with a drug usually used to treat cancer.

According to the New Scientist, the virus was undetectable in five out of 24 participants and its spread was stopped by their immune systems after receiving the treatment. One of the patients has been drug-free for seven months.

Beatriz Mothe, the lead scientist, said that her team was on the right track to developing a treatment which could offer an alternative to daily antiretroviral medication (ART).

According to the UN, half of all those living with HIV around the world, almost 18 million people, take ART to slow the progression of the infection. However, these drugs are expensive and cause harsh side effects. Patients have to remember to take the drugs every day, possibly for their entire lives.

Executive director of the Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (Avac), Mitchell Warren, said the study was conducted on a small scale but the findings were important and interesting. “Long-term systems that don’t require daily pill taking could really help accelerate getting 37 million people with HIV undetectable and not infectious – that would be a great opportunity to turn the tide on the epidemic,” he stated

A therapeutic vaccine:

According to Warren, his was an example of a therapeutic vaccine, for people already infected with the disease, which is different that preventative immunization for diseases such as polio or mumps and measles, he said that the idea of a therapeutic vaccine that could provide ongoing control of the virus without having to take a pill every day would be a huge advance.

All of Dr Mothe’s patients were recently diagnosed with HIV, they were given two vaccines designed to stimulate the production of white blood cells which can recognize and destroy cells that have been infected by the virus. The patients continued to take ART for three years, while the researchers followed their immune responses.

Fifteen of the participants received a booster dose of one of the vaccines as well as a cancer drug called Romidepsin, which flushes out the dormant HIV virus from tissues. In 10 of these patients, the virus quickly returned and began to spread again, they resumed taking ART. However, five of the patients have been free of the virus and didn’t need to take daily drugs for a number of weeks, and for one patient, seven months.