Controlling HIV infections has gone from a seeming impossibility to an everyday fact of life, thanks to breakthrough medications.
In several years, scientists could very well turn the dream of creating an HIV vaccine into reality.
And the last barrier — achieving a complete cure by eradicating all HIV from an infected person — might also soon crumble. That’s according to a study published Wednesday from a team led by scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla.
The researchers found that a new class of cancer drugs called Smac mimetics has the unexpected effect of activating pockets of dormant HIV hiding in the body. Paradoxically, making those remaining viruses active again also makes them more vulnerable. Activated HIV produces viral proteins, making cells it infects visible to the immune system — and thus ripe for attack, said Sumit Chanda, the study’s senior author and director of the institute’s immunity and pathogenesis program.
This approach is known as “shock and kill.”
Some Smac mimetics are now in clinical trials. Because these medications have already passed initial testing for safety, they could be repurposed for HIV therapy in about two to three years — as opposed to eight or nine years for an altogether new drug, Chanda said.
Working with cell cultures, his team found that repressing a certain gene reverses HIV latency. The scientists tested several Smac mimetics to demonstrate that this entire class of drugs produces the desired feature.
They used the drugs along with panobinostat, one of another class of cancer medications known as HDACi, to provoke HIV activity.
Scientists hope that in patients, this combination therapy will force the final vestiges of HIV into a losing fight against the immune system and standard “cocktails” of drugs used to control the virus on an ongoing basis.
(Click here to read the full article, written by Bradley J. Fikes, SD Union Tribune)