Researchers are hopeful of a cure for HIV after treating the first patient with a promising new treatment that could kill all traces of the virus.
The study involves activating 'sleeping' HIV-infected cells in the body – but researchers say it will take until the conclusion of the study in 2018 to know if there has been an effect on curing HIV.
A partnership sparked by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is behind this collaborative UK effort for the new treatment, which is a first-of-its-kind.
Six years ago this month, a meeting took place between five leading UK research establishments, including Oxford University, which resulted in a shared commitment to find a cure for HIV.
The meeting identified that while there is research into treatment of HIV, as there is for many chronic conditions, there was no research into eradication of the disease.
Each of the British research institutions present – Oxford University, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, King's College London and University College London – agreed that they could provide a part of the jigsaw needed to find the cure, but could not achieve this in isolation.
Mark Samuels, managing director of the National Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI), part of the NIHR, said: 'This was a meeting of some of the UK's top medical research leaders, and it was a privilege to encourage joining forces. We understand the power in brokering crucial relationships to pioneer health breakthroughs, and this meeting was a prime example of that. Together, we identified a research need which could only be achieved by creating a collaboration between these leading establishments.'
The Medical Research Council awarded one of the first joint grants to these five leading biomedical research institutions, which joined together to form CHERUB (Collaborative HIV Eradication of viral Reservoirs: UK BRC) – a cooperative of UK Biomedical Research Centres engaging internationally to find a cure for HIV.
CHERUB brings together, among others, clinicians, virologists, immunologists, molecular biologists and mathematical modellers under the umbrella of the NIHR.
In the six years since the initial meeting, progress has included the 'Kick and Kill' initiative, which is recruiting 50 participants for a study in which researchers activate HIV-infected cells that are 'asleep'. By waking them and treating them with an inhibitor drug, the body's own immune system is encouraged to fight the disease. Current antiretroviral therapy treatment for HIV suppresses but does not kill the virus, because it only works on HIV-infected cells that are active. Most cells infected with HIV in the human body contain resting or sleeping virus, representing an invisible reservoir of HIV that makes the infection difficult to cure.
Professor Sarah Fidler of Imperial College London, co-principal investigator on the study, said: 'The first participant has now completed the intervention, and we have found it to be safe and well tolerated. Only when all 50 study participants have completed the whole study, by 2018, will we be able to tell if there has been an effect on curing HIV. Professor John Frater's lab in Oxford will lead on the tests and assays to determine if the trial has had an effect.'