HIV vaccine could allow viral control without drugs

HIV vaccine could allow viral control without drugs
Image: (PHOTO: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)

FIVE people with HIV have undetectable viral loads and are free of daily medication thanks to a new vaccine treatment.

The Spanish trial, led by Dr Beatriz Mothe, gave vaccines three years ago to 24 people recently diagnosed with HIV, along with anti-retroviral treatment (ART).

The participants’ immune response was monitored, and this year 15 of them received vaccine boosters and doses of romidepsin, a cancer drug that has shown potential in HIV treatment.

When they stopped taking ART, the viral load increased for ten participants, forcing them to resume ART.

However, five no longer needed to take the drugs because their immune systems were independently suppressing the virus, making them undetectable. One has been off ART for seven months.

Previous treatments have appeared to ‘cure’ HIV but the virus has later returned. The researchers believe this treatment might be different, as it both primes the immune system and flushes the virus out from hiding in cells.

The researchers are currently investigating why only a third of the trial participants responded to the treatment.

Professor Sharon Lewin from the University of Melbourne said even a small number of people responding positively to the treatment is good news.

“This trial is the first treatment to stop the virus replicating without daily ART,” she said.

The researchers are working to understand the immune response and simplify the treatment. “We’re on the right path,” said Dr Mothe.

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