In Brief
  • A drug that successfully suppressed HIV to undetectable levels in eight monkeys has now entered human HIV trials, with results expected between late 2017 and early 2018.
  • These trials join a growing number of promising leads in the hunt for an HIV cure, which includes everything from vaccine treatments to gene editing.

Hope in Unexpected Places

Occasionally, researchers will discover that a drug developed to treat one condition can also be beneficial for another. Such is the case with Entyvio, a drug manufactured by Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda. Intended to treat ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, the drug has been used to successfully suppressed HIV to undetectable levels in eight monkeys, with the effect lasting as long as two years in some of them.

On the back of this effectiveness, researchers are now testing it on human subjects. Fifteen to 25 HIV patients will be taking Entyvio infusions along with anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for several months before the ART is stopped, at which point doctors will observe whether the participants’ HIV rebounds or remains dormant. Those trials began in August, and they are still recruiting participants as of last checking.

Results from the human trials are estimated to be out anytime between late next year and early 2018. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is optimistic, even if these initial trials result in just a partial success. “If we discontinue therapy in the 15, and four of them don’t rebound, [then] that is the best anybody has ever seen,” he told Reuters.

So Many Promising Leads

An estimated 36.7 million people worldwide are afflicted with HIV, and 1.8 million of those people are children. While we don’t yet know of a cure, a few promising candidates have emerged in the hunt for one.

Berlin HIV survivor Timothy Ray Brown has successfully eradicated his HIV (and leukemia) through bone marrow transplants. UK researchers have been able to remove all detectable traces of HIV from one man’s blood using vaccines and the drug Vorinostat. ART has also been effective in controlling the virus, allowing an infected person to live a long, healthy life, so those therapies could be the first step to a cure.

A vaccine called HVTN 702 started human trials last month, while another vaccine combination from the University of Adelaide is in development. The N6 antibody and CRISPR gene editing could also be the key to curing HIV. One new study found that children infected with HIV had immune systems that “kept calm,” preventing the infection from progressing to AIDS, so that’s another lead.

Given all these breakthroughs and the number of brilliant minds working toward a cure, hopes have never been higher that humanity will one day be rid of, or at least gain control of, this modern plague.