Doctors say experimental treatment may have rid man of HIV

Doctors say experimental treatment may have rid man of HIV

Doctors say experimental treatment may have rid man of HIV

A Brazilian man infected with the AIDS virus has shown no sign of it for more than a year since he stopped HIV medicines after an intense experimental drug therapy aimed at purging hidden, dormant virus from his body, doctors reported Tuesday.

The case needs independent verification and it’s way too soon to speculate about a possible cure, scientists cautioned.

“These are exciting findings but they’re very preliminary,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an AIDS specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “This has happened to one person, and one person only,” and it didn’t succeed in four others given the same treatment, she said.

Another UCSF specialist, Dr. Steven Deeks, said: “This is not a cure,” just an interesting case that merits more study.

The case was described at an AIDS conference where researchers also disclosed an important prevention advance: A shot of an experimental medicine every two months worked better than daily Truvada pills to help keep uninfected gay men from catching HIV from an infected sex partner. Hundreds of thousands of people take these “pre-exposure prevention” pills now and the shot could give a new option, almost like a temporary vaccine.

If the Brazil man’s case is confirmed, it would be the first time HIV has been eliminated in an adult without a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Independent experts want to see whether his remission lasts and for the intense drug combination that he received to undergo more testing.

“I’m very moved because it’s something that millions of people want,” said the 35-year-old man, whose spoke to The Associated Press on condition that his name not be published. “It’s a gift of life, a second chance to live.”

Transplants are how two other men, nicknamed the Berlin and London patients for where they were treated, were cured previously.

“I’m the living proof it’s possible to be cured,” Adam Castillejo, the London patient, said in a news conference at the AIDS meeting, which is being held online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He and the Berlin patient, Timothy Ray Brown, had donors with a gene that confers natural immunity to HIV infection. Such transplants are too medically risky and impractical to attempt on a large scale, so doctors have been trying other approaches.

It’s hard to eliminate HIV because it establishes an early “reservoir” of blood cells where it lies dormant and can’t be attacked by medicines or the immune system. Infections can be controlled with drugs, but as soon as patients stop taking them, the dormant virus activates and renews the disease.

Dr. Ricardo Diaz of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil led a study testing strong and new drug combinations to try to purge this reservoir.

“We are trying to wake up the virus” and boost the immune system’s ability to eliminate it once it’s flushed out of hiding, Diaz explained. The Brazil man had been taking a standard three-drug combo to suppress his virus. In September 2015, Diaz added two newer ones to intensify his treatment — dolutegravir and maraviroc — plus nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that may help expose dormant virus.

After nearly a year, the patient went back to the standard three drugs for two more years, then stopped all HIV medicines in March 2019. The virus has been undetectable in many blood and tissue samples since then.

“We can’t search the entire body, but by the best evidence, we do not have infected cells,” Diaz said.

The most convincing evidence: Tests show the man has lost nearly all HIV antibodies — substances the immune system makes when fighting the virus.

Eager for independent verification, the patient said he went to a counsellingcentre for an anonymous HIV test in February. It was negative.

“He made a picture of the results” and sent a photo of them, Diaz said.

The antibody results are “the most fascinating part of this story,” said Deeks. “These are solid scientists” and “the team may have come up with something that helps,” but it’s going to take verification of these results and much more testing to know, he said.

In particular, doctors will want to see proof from blood tests that the patient truly had stopped his HIV medicines. Diaz said all HIV patients in Brazil get their medicines from a government health program and that he verified the man had stopped.

“I think it’s very promising. This patient might be cured,” but it will take more time to know, Diaz said.

The treatment did not succeed in four others treated the same way, or in any of the others in the 30-person study testing related approaches.

Diaz said he has approval for a new study in 60 patients, sponsored by government grants in Brazil and by ViiV Healthcare, the British company that makes maraviroc.

Dr. Anton Pozniak, head of the AIDS conference and an HIV specialist at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, said more time is needed to see if the virus rebounds.

“I’m waiting. I’m a skeptic about all of this … until a couple of years go by,” he said.

The separate study on prevention involved nearly 4,600 people in North and South America, Asia, and Africa. It tested shots of ViiV’s experimental drug cabotegravir against daily pills of Truvada, the Gilead Sciences drug already approved for preventing HIV infection.

The study was stopped early, in May, when the shot seemed at least as effective as the pills. Final results now show the shot works better — there were 13 new infections among those who got it versus 39 among those taking Truvada, said the study leader, Dr. Raphael Landovitz of the University of California, Los Angeles.

“People can stay protected without having taken a pill every day,” he said. “You get a shot and you don’t have to do anything for two months. That’s incredibly powerful.”

The results “could revolutionize prevention for HIV worldwide” and give a new option for people who don’t want to take a daily pill, Gandhi said.

ViiV has said it will seek U.S. approval for cabotegravir; its eventual price is unknown. Truvada costs $1,600 to $1,800 a month, but what patients pay out of pocket depends on insurance and other factors. With either drug, people are still urged to use condoms to prevent other sexually spread diseases.

___

Marilynn Marchione can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Marilynn Marchione, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

File photo
Norris Beach Road Tender Approved

County of Wetaskiwin Council awarded the tender for Range Road 11 to Crow Enterprises Ltd.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

Government of Alberta COVID-19 Aggregate Data Map. Screen Grab/ https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#geospatial
City of Wetaskiwin under 10 active cases; single active case in County

Active COVID-19 cases in the City and County of Wetaskiwin continue to drop.

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro speaks during a news conference in Calgary on May 29, 2020. Shandro says Alberta is considering whether to extend the time between COVID-19 vaccine shots to four months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta may follow B.C.’s lead on faster rollout of first COVID-19 dose

Tyler Shandro says a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision is coming

A locally-produced video project aims to preserve Canada’s railway history

‘Railways have been an integral part of Canadian history since 1836’

Ryan Jake Applegarth of Ponoka, 28, is scheduled to appear at Ponoka Provincial Court on March 12, 2021. (File photo)
Discussions about justice continue as Ponoka murder victim’s case proceeds

Reaction to comments Ponoka Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley made to town council last month

Dr. Stanley Read
Hometown Bashaw doctor recognized with alumni award for AIDS work

Dr. Stanley Read, born and raised in Bashaw, is considered a global health leader

A copy of the book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator’s legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children’s titles including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo,” because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
6 Dr. Seuss books won’t be published for racist images

Books affected include McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer

AstraZeneca’s vaccine ready for use at the vaccination centre in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Reichel/dpa via AP
National panel advises against using Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on seniors

NACI panel said vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors ‘due to suggested superior efficacy’

Most Read