Blood Cancer Drug Venetoclax Killing HIV-infected Cells

Venetoclax is a drug that is used to fight certain blood cancers. Recently this drug has shown promise in killing HIV-infected cells and delaying reinfections. It is a big pre-clinical discovery that might help find a cure for HIV in the future. Hidden HIV-infected cells in the body are known as latent infections. Latent infections are responsible for the virus permanently remaining in the body and cannot be treated by currently available treatment options.

These hibernating, HIV-infected cells are the reason why patients living with HIV require life-long treatment to suppress the virus. A joint Doherty Institute and WEHI study finds the cancer drug venetoclax can kill hibernating HIV-infected cells and, crucially, prevent the virus from re-emerging. Currently, available treatments can only suppress the virus and cannot target hibernating HIV-infected cells. So, with the current available treatments, we cannot prevent the virus from coming back.

Based on the findings a clinical trial will launch in Australia and Denmark. In this trial, researchers will test whether venetoclax can be used as a potential weapon to develop a cure for HIV. 39 million people around the world are living with HIV. For HIV patients, Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is the only available treatment option and is highly effective. However, the antiretroviral therapy cannot target hibernating HIV-infected cells. This means antiretroviral therapy can only suppress the virus – not cure it. 

For HIV patients ART is life-long, if a patient stops taking ART, hibernating HIV-infected cells will reactivate within a very short time. In a recent research, scientists at WEHI tested a cancer drug called venetoclax on animals with HIV. They tested the drug on animals before human testing. After testing the drug researchers discovered that even without ART, the drug could delay the virus from coming back by two weeks

Researchers said, Every time we make progress in slowing down the virus from coming back, we get closer to stopping the disease from re-emerging in people living with HIV. Our discoveries are a hopeful step towards reaching this goal.

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