Cancer drug could be added to arsenal of treatments to combat HIV

A budding HIV-1 cell
A budding HIV-1 cell.

Scientists at the University of California's Davis School of Medicine believe they may have identified a new way to tackle the HIV virus using drugs licensed for use in cancer patients.

Current treatments include anti-retroviral therapy (ART), often a combination of drugs that are begun once a patient's viral load reaches a certain level. Anti-retroviral therapy acts by killing the virus in the bloodstream however hidden reserves of the virus remain untouched by the drugs, dormant, ready to return at a later date.

The issue of a HIV 'cure' hit headlines last July when a four-year-old girl in the US, dubbed the 'Mississippi baby', born to a HIV positive mother, was thought to have been cured of the disease when she was a very young baby following anti-retroviral therapy. The child remained HIV negative for a number of years but the virus re-emerged after treatment was stopped for a period of two years.

Most patients opt to stay on the drugs indefinitely, however, for some patients ART can become less effective over time and some experience side-effects.

But now scientists at UC Davis believe they have found a way to effectively 'flush out' or reactivate the latent virus from its hiding place in the body, ready to be killed off with drugs - a strategy known as 'kick and kill'.

The study, published in PLoS Pathogens, involved an investigation into the use of PEP005 - a treatment currently used to prevent cancer in sun-damaged skin.

Dr Satya Dandekar, one of the researchers at UC Davis, said: "We are excited to have identified an outstanding candidate for HIV reactivation and eradication that is already approved and is being used in patients.

"This molecule has great potential to advance into translational and clinical studies."

Dr Dandekar adds: 'We've made great progress, but at the end of the day you still have more than 30 million people walking around with HIV.

"Without drugs, the virus can come back at the same threat level for patients."

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