We are still looking for that elusive HIV cure. As discussed on here before the main obstacle to a curing HIV is the fact that HIV integrates into the infected person’s DNA and becomes latent. Whilst infected persons remain on antiretroviral treatment the treatment suppresses the HIV circulating in the blood, but if they stop treatment these latent cells reactivate and start producing more HIV.
Researchers have been looking at ways to reactivate this latent pool of HIV in an effort to shock and kill the HIV virus, i.e. shock it out of hiding and then kill the remaining virus off. So far there has been limited success with this approach as either the drugs that we currently have do not cause enough reactivation, or they cause an immune response which can cause its own problems.
However recently researchers have found that a particular gene BIRC2, when absent, increases HIV activity. A group of drugs already being tested for cancer, so called Smac mimetics are known to work by blocking BIRC2, so they decided to study its effects on HIV. They tested a Smac mimetic called SBI-0637142 combined with a histone deacetylase inhibitor called panobinostat on the cells of infected patients on ARV’s and found that this combination not only woke the dormant HIV but in addition it didn’t cause immune over activation.
They also tested another Smac mimetic called LCL161 which is already in clinical trials and it worked just as well.
Even more exciting, the new drug was 10-100 times more effective in awakening dormant HIV than previously tested drugs. The team studying this will now start designing clinical trials in humans to see if they can replicate the effects. Because the drugs have already been through safety trials it should move forward faster than usual and the hope is that we could be looking at a potential way of eradicating HIV.