HIV: cancer drug ‘kicks’ virus out of cells

A drug used in the treatment of cancer was effective in expelling the dormant HIV virus from the cells of HIV-positive patients. The drug, called pembrolizumab, reversed the latency of HIV in the cells of people with cancer who use the antiretroviral cocktails used against the virus.

With the expulsion of the HIV virus, the immune system was able to identify the latent virus and kill the infected cells. According to the researchers, this is an important step in the search for drugs capable of attacking cells infected by the HIV virus in the body.

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Targeted attack

The ability to attack only cells infected by the HIV virus, without affecting healthy cells, is one of the biggest challenges for scientists to develop a vaccine. According to the researchers, the drug acts on the release of anti-PD-1 molecules.

PD-1 is an acronym for cell death programming protein, this protein has the function of inhibiting the action of T-defense cells capable of identifying the HIV virus. These cells are responsible for attacking invading agents, such as bacteria and viruses, in addition to tumor cells.

Some of these cells are able to store the information of the HIV virus for many years, and, with the help of the drug, they are able to help the body to identify the cells infected by the virus and attack them.

Infected cells became visible

Pembrolizumab has the trade name of Keytruda and its sale is allowed in Brazil. Credit: FDA/Disclosure

The human clinical trial had 32 volunteers, 29 of them with an undetectable viral load and only three with a viral load above the minimum level for detection. Each volunteer received a course of therapy and was periodically evaluated every three weeks for T cell counts.

In the first evaluation, there was an increase in the detection of viral RNA fragments, something that was repeated in all evaluations. This means that the treatment was successful in reversing the inhibition of the defense cells, which made the dormant virus cells visible.

Researchers urge caution

The results were quite encouraging, however, further trials are still needed, with a greater number of volunteers. The aim is to determine what the optimal dose of the drug should be to reverse the dormancy of the HIV virus in cells without causing side effects.

However, the researchers consider that the drug alone should not be the key to the development of vaccines, much less the cure for HIV and AIDS. However, when used in conjunction with other gene therapies, such as mRNA vaccines, it can lead to satisfactory results.

Via: Folha de S. Paulo

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