A promising multi-disciplinary approach to fighting HIV has led to an encouraging first set of results from clinical trials.
The new treatment — called Kick and Kill — comes out of a collaboration between five leading U.K. research establishments.
Waking up sleeping HIV cells
The therapy targets people diagnosed with HIV who are taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs. ART drugs reduce the amount of HIV in the bloodstream to such small levels that patients can't pass along the virus and their immune system is able to fight it.
The problem is that HIV is incredibly sneaky, and ART alone can't "cure" it.
A news release from the U.K. National Institute of Health Research (NHS) explains it this way: ART "only works on HIV infected cells that are active, and most cells infected with HIV in the human body contain resting or sleeping virus."
And that's where the idea of Kick and Kill comes in.
The treatment consisted of giving HIV patients a drug called an HDAC inhibitor, which is commonly used to fight cancer. In HIV-positive people, HDAC is the enzyme that allows these dormant HIV cells to rest. Tamping down HDAC "kicks" the virus awake. Once awake, the ART therapy can kill even more of the virus, and could ultimately lead to a cure.
More results ahead
Researchers plan to try the new therapy on 50 HIV study participants.
"This first participant has now completed the intervention and we have found it to be safe and well tolerated," said Sarah Fidler, professor of HIV and Communicable Diseases at Imperial College London and co-principal investigator on the study. "Only when all 50 study participants have completed the whole study, by 2018, will we be able to tell if there has been an effect on curing HIV."
In a news release Monday, the NHS urged caution on reporting the study, saying "all participants involved in the study will be expected to have no HIV in their blood because they are receiving antiretroviral therapy — these are the standard drugs we use to treat HIV."
The statement goes on to say full results will not be available until 2018.