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More talk about cancer drugs to cure HIV

Timothy Kincaid

September 3rd, 2010

The pharmaceutical world has become quite skilled at treating HIV. For most HIV infected patients, a daily drug can reduce the virus in the body to the point where it has virtually no impact; the immune system is not effected by the virus and it is even theorized that such persons are no longer infectious.

But “virtually” is the important word. While the virus may seem gone, it is not. Rather it is lurking in cells that the drug regimen cannot reach and should the patience cease their treatment the virus will return even fiercer than before.

And it is this lurking that has proven to be the attribute that has stopped researchers from finding a cure.

But, as we discussed last month, some are starting to think outside the box and are utilizing existing cancer drugs to break through this last threshold and actually prepare a cure for those infected with HIV. Now a similar effort is being reported for a Merck cancer drug, but using a different theory. (Bloomberg)

Researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill plan to test Merck’s drug, Zolinza, next year in about 20 people infected with HIV, the AIDS virus. The goal is to determine if Zolinza, or a medicine like it, can force HIV out of cells where it can reside, concealed from attack by potent antiviral treatments, said David Margolis, a professor of medicine who’s leading the research.

While AIDS drug cocktails can eliminate more than 99 percent of virus from an infected person, the treatment isn’t a cure because a remnant of the virus remains hidden in certain cells. For years, scientists have sought a simple way to drive the remaining virus into the bloodstream where the drugs can clear them from the body. Zolinza, approved in 2006 for use against a rare type of blood cancer, may work by blocking an enzyme that helps the virus avoid detection.

This is not a certainty, of course, but previous testing has shown promise.

In a laboratory test published last year, Margolis used the medicine to coax HIV out of hiding in cells taken from infected patients.

It may prove that the optimism for a cure is as hasty as was the optimism for a vaccine which was in the air a few years ago. But, nevertheless, I do think that for many HIV infected persons, there is a reasonable hope that within their lifetime they will again be free of this virus.

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