A Cancer Drug Could Be the Cure for HIV

For years now scientists have been working hard to find a cure for HIV without much success. While great strides have been made to treat infected people and prolong their lives with antiretroviral therapy (ART) as well as prevent infection through HIV PEP and PrEP, the biggest desire is to find a cure and a vaccine.

One of the biggest problems that scientists have been facing as they try to find a cure is the nature of the virus. One, it replicates very fast and two it remains latent in a patient’s body cells. This makes it almost impossible to cure the virus as it can recur once the patient stops taking treatment.

Shock and Kill Method VS. Silencing Method

The nature of the virus makes it impossible to eradicate from the human cells. Scientists are now looking into two methods that might make it possible. They are considering the shock and kill method and the silencing for good method.

But what if they could combine the two methods? That’s what a team of scientists are trying to do. The scientists from the Gladstone Institutes found an anti-cancer drug that could help them do that.

In a study that was published in the journal Molecular Cell, the scientists say that the drug, JQ1, can reactivate latent HIV virus. Once the virus is reactivated the scientists can then eradicate it or make the body strong enough to suppress it.

Towards a Cure for HIV and Other Chronic Diseases

The scientists, however, say that combining the two methods is the most ideal approach to completely eradicate the virus from a patient’s body.

Melanie Ott, the senior investigator said that the two methods are normally treated as competing approaches but should actually be combined to develop better therapies. The researcher suggested shocking and killing the virus and then slow down the resurfacing of latent virus by using silencing mechanisms.

According to the study JQ1 targets the BRD4 protein. With that in mind, the scientists looked at the different forms of BRD4 protein and were pleased to find a short form of the protein key to silencing HIV.

They discovered that JQ1 actually works by targeting and removing the short form of BRD4. This then allows the virus to replicate itself.

So by shocking the virus into replicating itself and then silencing it, patients can stop taking medication for several years. By the time the virus starts reactivating, the patient’s immune system will be strong enough to suppress the virus as it surfaces.

The scientists also found that this method could also help cure other diseases such as cancer, inflammation and heart failure.

Currently, people living with HIV have to take a combination of at least three drugs daily for the rest of their lives in order to remain healthy. While these drugs are effective, they also have uncomfortable side effects including mild ones such as dizziness as well as life-threatening ones such as liver damage.

Unfortunately, even with the side effects, one cannot stop taking the medication because the virus will consequently resurface affecting their health and raise their chances of dying.

With this new possibility of suppressing latent virus, HIV patients could eventually be able to stop continuously taking drugs.

Source: Molecular Cell