Researchers are hard at work looking for new drugs and treatments for HIV. They’re aiming to find therapies that extend and improve the quality of life for people with this condition. In addition, they hope to develop a vaccine and discover a cure for HIV. Here’s a brief look at several important avenues of research.
A monthly HIV injection is scheduled to become available in early 2020. It combines two drugs: the integrase inhibitor cabotegravir and the NNRTI rilpivirine (Edurant). Clinical studies
found that the monthly injection was as effective at suppressing HIV as the typical daily regimen of three oral medications.
Targeting HIV reservoirs
Part of what makes discovering a cure for HIV difficult is that the immune system has trouble targeting reservoirs of cells with HIV. The immune system usually can’t recognize cells with HIV or eliminate the cells that are actively reproducing the virus. Antiretroviral therapy doesn’t eliminate HIV reservoirs. Researchers
are exploring two different types
of HIV cures, both of which would potentially destroy HIV reservoirs:
- Functional cure. This type of cure would control replication of HIV in the absence of antiretroviral therapy.
- Sterilizing cure. This type of cure would completely eliminate the virus that’s capable of replicating.
Breaking apart the HIV virus
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been using computer simulations
to study the HIV capsid. The capsid is the container for the virus’s genetic material. It protects the virus from being destroyed by the immune system. Understanding the makeup of the capsid and how it interacts with its environment may help researchers find a way to break it open. Breaking the capsid could release HIV’s genetic material into the body where it can be destroyed by the immune system. It’s a promising frontier in HIV treatment and cure.
‘Functionally cured’Timothy Ray Brown
, an American once living in Berlin, received an HIV diagnosis in 1995 and a leukemia
diagnosis in 2006. He’s one of two people sometimes referred to as “the Berlin patient.” In 2007, Brown received a stem cell transplant to treat the leukemia — and stopped antiretroviral therapy. HIV hasn’t been detected
in him since that procedure was performed. Studies of multiple parts of his body at the University of California, San Francisco have shown him to be free of HIV. He’s considered “effectively cured,” according to a study
published in PLOS Pathogens. He’s the first person to be cured of HIV. In March 2019, research
was made public on two other men who had received diagnoses with both HIV and cancer. Like Brown, both men received stem cell transplants to treat their cancer. Both men also stopped antiretroviral therapy after receiving their transplants. At the time the research was presented, “the London patient” had been able to remain in HIV remission for 18 months and counting. “The Dusseldorf patient” had been able to remain in HIV remission for three and a half months and counting.