Researchers Developing One-Two Punch To Knock HIV Down For The Count

"Shock and kill."

A new drug is helping scientists deliver a new one-two punch that would cure people infected with HIV by using a “shock and kill” concept using the cancer drug Vorinostat.

Cells infected with HIV are constantly being killed by medication or the body’s immune system. Some of the cells stop actively producing the virus and go into a dormant state in a “viral reservoir”—but those cells can still reactivate and start producing the virus again.

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Vorinostat would “shock” the HIV-infected cells awake, bringing the virus out of hiding, which once detected the cells can be “killed.”

“We showed that a single dose of Vorinostat could expose the hidden virus several years ago, but it has taken two studies over the last five years to define the proper interval dosing strategy to use Vorinostat safely and effectively,” said Nancie Archin Ph.D., lead author of this study and an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of North Carolina. “Now we can attempt to chip away the viral reservoir.”

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Medications can stop HIV from infecting new cells, but doctors haven’t been able to eliminate the disease from the dormant reservoirs, resulting in HIV positive people having to take medication for the rest of their lives.

Trials pairing Vorinostat with other HIV drugs are already underway, but the researchers at UNC are finding that the once dormant cells are not being killed by the immune system like other HIV-infected cells.

“We do not expect immediate success, but hope to make progress towards the goal of developing treatments that someday might clear HIV infection,” said David Margolis, M.D., director of the UNC HIV Cure Center at the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases.

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