Despite the death of leading AIDS researchers on flight MH17, there is reason for hope in the field of AIDS research. Progress has been made in the search for the HIV/AIDS cure. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark performed an experiment in which they gave six HIV-infected people an old cancer drug called romidepsin.
Romidepsin is a last-resort treatment for certain types of skin cancers and lymphomas. It works by blocking enzymes created by cancer cells, thus preventing them from multiplying and encouraging healthy cell growth. Side effects of romidepsin include irregular hearing rhythm, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and anemia.
The drug could possibly be used in AIDS treatment because the HIV virus settles deep within hidden “reservoirs” in cells where it lies dormant, making it impossible for current HIV medications to reach it. When romidepsin was administered to people with HIV/AIDS, the drug was successful in bringing the dormant virus out of hiding. The hope is that when the sleeping virus is unearthed, the body’s immune system will be able to fight against and eliminate it. Currently, there are medications available to keep AIDS in check, but if a patient stops taking his or her medication, the virus emerges from these reservoirs and wreaks havoc on the body unless treatment is started again.
In Oslo, the biotechnical company Bionor Pharma has been studying romidepsin along with another drug known as vacc-4x, which is administered after romidepsin has been used. The vacc-4x is supposed to aid the immune system in killing the virus. This process has been named the “kick-and-kill” method.
Bionor Pharma has announced that they have completed the pilot study for the kick-and-kill method and are ready to move on to the second part of the study. The second stage will involve treating HIV-infected patients with romidepsin and vacc-4x for three weeks. After three weeks, all HIV treatment will cease and the patients will be monitored to see if the virus rebounds.
While AIDS can be a manageable disease for people with access to quality health care, it affects 35 million people worldwide and only 13.9 million are receiving treatment. Most people affected by AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in five people have HIV/AIDS. If people infected with the HIV virus leave it untreated, it will develop into AIDS, and because treatment is daily and expensive, most people in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford it. Many advancements have been made to treat HIV/AIDS since the 1990s, but just as important as finding a cure is making sure all those infected have access to it.