The HIV research community is increasingly optimistic about the promising “shock and kill” approach to eradicating HIV from infected patients. Such removal of all traces of the virus from an individual's body would represent an actual cure for AIDS.
A new small-scale human trial of the treatment is starting this week in New York and two sister sites in Germany and Denmark. A second shock and kill trial with 30 subjects, including 10 women, will be conducted at the University of California, San Francisco. Both trials are combining a known cancer drug, Vorinostat, with existing antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs.
Shock and kill combines standard ARVs with an immune booster, a combo that's been effective in test tube, animal and now human trials. The treatment flushes out and eradicates pockets of HIV, which lie inactive inside dormant immune cells even as antiretroviral drugs reduce the actively reproducing virus to undetectable levels.
The new trials follow compelling data, shared at the annual HIV Cure Summit at the University of California, validating shock and kill in lab and animal studies. The summit was held in early December.
“I feel a very real sense of optimism based on the evidence that we know a cure can be achieved,” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, Vice-President for amfAR, in a post-summit interview with KQED. “There is a fundamental understanding we have now of the barriers between us and a cure, and how we go about to solving the problems.”
In its coming trial, the UCSF team will study gender factors, and whether an oral pill or IV drip is more effective in delivering the drug to tissue reservoirs where HIV hides. Johnston said the UCSF trial is designed to be the benchmark reference trial for all future HIV cure studies.