Thanks to a new vaccine-based therapy, a group of five people with HIV are currently free of detectable virus, all without taking daily drugs.
Most people with HIV need to take antiretroviral drugs (ART) each day to ensure that the virus doesn’t replicate or cause damage to the immune system. Though ART is highly effective, it’s expensive, time-consuming and can cause nasty side effects.
That’s why Beatriz Mothe and her colleagues at the IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona endeavored to develop a vaccine therapy that would alleviate the need to take ART.
Mothe and her team began running trials three years ago on a group of 24 HIV-positive individuals. The participants were given two experimental vaccines from researchers at the University of Oxford as well as a daily prescription of ART. They were monitored to see if the vaccine would induce a strong immune response.
This year, 15 of those participants received a booster dose of the vaccine and stopped taking ART all together. In 10 of the individuals, the virus rapidly began to reproduce—however, the remaining five were able to combat the virus unaided.
Four of the individuals have been off ART for six, 14, 19 and 21 weeks respectively and one man has been free of daily drugs for nearly seven months.
Scientists are currently investigating to figure out why the therapy only worked on one-third of the test group, but say that even this small number of positive reactions is good news.
This is one of several new exciting developments in HIV treatment, including the discovery last November of an antibody that neutralizes nearly all strains of the virus and the successful extraction of HIV DNA from a human cell this past summer.
That being said, HIV rates are continuing to skyrocket for young gay and bisexual men, with the Centers for Disease Control recently reporting a 35% increase in HIV diagnoses for men aged 25-34.