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Could a new cancer drug be used to help cure HIV?

Hidden HIV reservoirs exposed by potential new cancer drug.


Interesting news from a BBC article claiming that researchers from UC Davis School of Medicine in America believe a cancer drug they are testing can ‘flush’ out hidden HIV reservoirs, which could be a stepping stone towards a cure.

First a bit of explanation:

When HIV first enters the body it moves to the blood stream and targets CD4 cells, which are part of our immune system. Once they attach to these CD4 cells, they enter and begin replicating eventually bursting the cell releasing more HIV ‘particles’ to infect other CD4 cells. You can see this is a double whammy as HIV weakens our immune system while increasing its own potency.

After the first 3 days of infection enough HIV particles have been created that some begin to go into hiding within these so called ‘reservoirs’. Here they can lie dormant for many years before reactivating again. Modern anti-retroviral drugs are good at targeting active virus within the blood by preventing HIV from entering the CD4 cell and replicating. However, the drugs cannot target these hidden reservoirs, which is why there is no current cure.

One case that illustrates this is that of the Mississippi baby who was born with HIV after contracting it from the mother. Shortly after birth they were started on anti-retroviral medication and the medical society believed they were cured. Unfortunately 2 years later, after stopping the anti-retroviral medication, the HIV resurfaced. This demonstrates how important these reservoirs are because once they are established they currently cannot be cured or removed.


This brings us back to this new cancer drug that is believed to ‘flush’ hidden HIV out of these reservoirs. It is currently known as PEP005 and is approved for use as a cancer drug. So far researchers have used tissue samples from patients who are HIV positive and found that the drug can ‘expose’ hidden HIV making them an easy target for the standard anti-retroviral drugs. The belief is that if all the hidden HIV can be found then the anti-retroviral medication could be used to kill off HIV leading to a cure.

So this is all very exciting at the moment but this excitement must be tempered for now as the drug has never been used in patients with HIV. As mentioned above, tissue samples have been tried but not live patients subjects. So there will be a lot more research needed in order to find out the true efficacy and safety of PEP005.

But if found to be safe and effective, exciting times lie ahead for a potential cure to HIV.

Watch this space.

Sources: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-33720325


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