HIV can currently be managed effectively so long as patients conform to a regime of regular antiretrovirals (ARVs). The treatment means that people with HIV can live a normal duration of life so long as they take daily drugs, although if they stop doing so the viral level rapidly increases and starts once again attacking their immune system.
However, a new piece of research suggests that this may not always have to be the case. In fact, the vaccine-based therapy currently being trialed among 13 HIV-active participants resulted in five patients being able to keep a retain a low, non-dangerous viral load — despite one of them not having taken ARVs for 27 weeks. The others were virus free for five, 13, 17, and 20 weeks after stopping taking their regularly scheduled medication.
“It is a proof of concept that with vaccines we might be able to re-educate our immune system to help control the virus once we interrupt treatment,” Beatriz Mothe, a clinician at IrsiCaixa AIDS Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain, told Digital Trends. “It is still a small effect, as only five individuals out of the 13 that have interrupted to date show durable control. But still, it is a positive signal to start deciphering the mechanisms that can drive this control, and test how to improve it in future larger studies.”
This is far from a magic cure-all and it doesn’t claim to be. During the study, eight out of the 13 participants had to restart ARVs, while each of the remaining five had the virus temporarily detectable in their body, although never at sufficient levels to restart the daily drugs.
As Mothe notes, this is still early days. There is a long way to go, she said, to improve its efficacy in larger studies with novel vaccines and novel agents. Still, given the devastation that HIV can cause — and, in parts of the world ravaged by AIDS, the challenge of keeping people compliant with daily ARVs — this is a reason to be optimistic.
The findings were recently presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, the largest conference on HIV/AIDS in the world.