Cancer medication may be effective against HIV

Timothy Kincaid

August 24th, 2010

Angina medicine made Pfizer a fortune when it was discovered to cause erections and Merck was delighted when they discovered that their prostate drug could regrow hair. So it would not surprise me if a cure for HIV were to be found to exist already posing with as having an entirely different purpose altogether.

And early testing suggests that possibly two cancer drugs may well be such a find. Louis Mansky, Ph.D., and Christine Clouser, Ph.D., of the Institute for Molecular Virology and School of Dentistry, along with medicinal chemist Steven Patterson, Ph.D., from the Center for Drug Design, decided to think outside the box. Instead of fighting the mutation of the HIV virus in the body, they decided to do the opposite. (Science Daily)

The two drugs, decitabine and gemcitabine — both FDA approved and currently used in pre-cancer and cancer therapy — were found to eliminate HIV infection in the mouse model by causing the virus to mutate itself to death — an outcome researchers dubbed “lethal mutagenesis.”

This is a landmark finding in HIV research because it is the first time this novel approach has been used to attack the deadly virus without causing toxic side effects.

Let’s hope for continued success.

Emily K

August 24th, 2010


Chris McCoy

August 24th, 2010

The trouble with lethal mutagenesis is that it’s difficult to select for only the virus to be mutated. There’s a risk that you also end up with non-viral cells also mutating – ie, cancer.

The two drugs, decitabine and gemcitabine — both FDA approved and currently used in pre-cancer and cancer therapy

Neither of these drugs are currently used to start lethal mutagenesis in the cancer cells they are used to treat. Their agency in fighting cancer is by a different mechanism. I imagine that they would need to be re-certified for use in HIV treatment.

Jim Burroway

August 24th, 2010

This is extremely exciting news.

But then, I’m reminded of former HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler who boldly announced that because they had discovered the virus which causes AIDS, “We hope to have a vaccine ready for testing in about two years.” That was in 1984.

Does anyone know the legality of using these cancer drugs for off-label uses? What would be the medical implications for doing so? (i.e. risks, side-effects, etc.)

Chris McCoy

August 30th, 2010

Jim Burroway said:

Does anyone know the legality of using these cancer drugs for off-label uses? What would be the medical implications for doing so? (i.e. risks, side-effects, etc.)

Well, I was half-wrong about off-label use. Apparently the FDA cannot prohibit Off-label use – a physician can proscribe specific drugs for off-label use, and apparently they do so frequently. However, the manufacturing companies cannot legally promote the drug for off-label use (no print ads, no TV commercials, no advocacy).

So the makers of decitabine and gemcitabine would have to reapply for New Drug Application in order legally promote them in HIV treatment, but in the interim, a physician could prescribe the drugs for off-label use.

I’m not a physician, so I couldn’t comment on the side-effects/risks.

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