According to an announcement made by scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida on Saturday, a newly-developed HIV therapy stops the virus’s replication and may provide what the researchers call a ‘functional cure’ to the devastating disease.
According to them, their new drug may reduce an infected person’s viral load so far that HIV can no longer spread to healthy cells when used in combination with the current recommended cocktail of antiretroviral drugs.
The discovery comes a month after CDC announced that once the viral load of HIV is reduced below the level of being ‘detectable,’ it is effectively no longer transmissible.
The Scripps study uses a technology described by Dr Susana Valente as ‘block-and-lock.’
She and her team came up with a new drug compound called didehydro-Cortistatin A (dCA) in the Scripps lab in Jupiter, Florida.
After the viral load of HIV has been reduced down to undetectable levels by the traditional cocktail of medications, dCA prevents infected cells from reactivating and copying themselves, the mechanism by which the virus spreads.
The drug then ‘locks’ the HIV virus into a dormant state, which, from the study’s results could suppress it for as much as 19 days. The virus began to replicate again after only seven days in the mice that were only given the standard antiretroviral cocktail.
According to Dr Susana Valente, the dCA therapy has the potential to suppress the HIV virus for longer periods of time, so that one missed pill may not disrupt treatment so badly.
She goes on to add that over time, it might have a nice impact on the size of the reservoir [of HIV-infected cells], to a point that maybe even just the immune system could [suppress the virus] on its own, but they agree that they are a long way off from being able to prove that.
The dCA therapy targets a protein called tat, which is a powerful activator for the process of copying the HIV virus.
However, it doesn’t eliminate the need for ART, so it dCA is not an eradication but a functional cure.