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No, HIV Is NOT About to Be Cured in Three Months

May 7, 2013


Contrary to some hysterically hyped headlines this past week, HIV is not on the verge of being cured in the next three months, nor have scientists found an effective vaccine. The truth is that a hopeful compound to force HIV out of hiding is under study, and the results should be known in the near future. Unfortunately, however, even if researchers hit a home run with this drug, it won't likely be a cure by itself and we will still be waiting for the day that we have a vaccine or other types of immune therapy to help the body kill any remaining infected cells.

Let's unpack the hype. Last week the London Daily Telegraph ran a story on this new compound, but claimed that a cure was just around the corner. The reporter apparently misquoted the researcher and overly hyped what he'd been told. The reporter has since toned down his piece and changed the headline due to pressure from a prominent activist in England and likely due in part to a piece the researchers themselves felt compelled to post to refute the article's claims. Unfortunately, the press outside of London grabbed hold and has been retreading the original uncorrected story since then.

Here is the real story. First, contrary to some reports there is no actual vaccine involved at this point. That's probably the most mystifying and frustrating thing. Instead, there is a class of drugs that helps cause HIV that is bound up inside the DNA of resting immune cells to begin reproducing. If we want to cure HIV, then that's the first thing we'll have to do -- to unmask the hidden HIV. The class of drugs is called HDAC inhibitors.

Thus far, there have been four studies of this class of drug. Two were conducted with a very weak form called valproic acid that ultimately had no effect. Two more recent studies were with a drug called vorinostat and showed at least transient increases in HIV RNA production from latent cells, indicating activity, but the effect was also somewhat weak and didn't have the ultimate effect we'd want to see, which is to reduce the amount of HIV DNA there. That would tell us that we are actually reducing the size of the HIV reservoir.

The researchers in Denmark are using a more potent HDAC inhibitor called panobinostat. All of us in the cure advocacy arena have good hopes about the drug, but it is a very, very long way from being a cure all by itself and the very small Phase I study being run by the Danish researchers has yet to publicly report any results. Panobinostat may turn out to be a potent way to kick start HIV replication, but we'll probably have to pair it with a vaccine in order to kill those latent cells that panobinostat has woken up. Unfortunately, we're quite a ways away from having such a vaccine.

It says something quite sad about the state of science journalism in general that articles like this make it out the door. The hype that never pans out ultimately makes people so skeptical about the kind of work Project Inform advocates for and reports on. It's also sadly the case that stories like this, where the reporter, or the researcher -- or both -- hypes a study and claims a cure is just around the corner are all too common. We'll do our best to set the record straight when these arise.

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This article was provided by Project Inform. Visit Project Inform's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
No Proof of New HIV Cure, Despite Headlines -- Here's What We Know
The Only Cases of HIV Cure or Remission
Beyond the Berlin Patient: How Researchers Are Now Trying to Cure More HIV-Positive People (Video)
What Would an HIV Cure Mean for You?
More Research on a Cure for HIV/AIDS

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Gift (South Africa) Mon., Sep. 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm UTC
Well my opinion is if you Dr are able to woke up the virus using panobinostant try push it back(supress) to it primary stage the 72 hrs of transmittion then will be easy to use the prevention pills like lamuvudine,atrioza for period of 28 days then will be cured.
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Comment by: Milo (USA) Fri., Jun. 7, 2013 at 12:23 am UTC
I am pessimistic that there will be functional, universal cure for HIV in our lifetime (or before 2050). I have been reading about hopeful cures since 1980's and were are nowhere near in developing and deploying truly functional HIV cure. We only have better medications that slows the progression of HIV into AIDS, they work faster, and requires one or two pills a day. Anyone hoping for cure in generation will face disappointment.
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Comment by: jules (london) Sat., May. 11, 2013 at 6:22 am UTC
And God forbid that ir should be, as a lot of folk with be unemployed if a cure came...
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Comment by: michael (los angeles) Sat., May. 11, 2013 at 5:45 am UTC
see...this is what baffles my mind. not so long ago, the talk was all we need to do is to find the reservoirs/dormant hiv cells and let HAART take care of it....functional cure......

ok, now here is where the problem is.....yes. we all know about valporic acid and vorinostat.....i believe they were cancer drugs that seemed to have some kind of effect on activating the dormant hiv cells.........

now, there are the new drugs that might be able to really activate these reservoir dormant cells.....and all of a sudden, you need to pair it with a vaccine????? what happened since the last time that they said once those reservoirs are scouted and activated that HAART will do the rest?

something is off here.
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Comment by: mike (san diego) Wed., May. 15, 2013 at 2:10 am UTC
M-O-N-E-Y...why do people keep believing that they are really trying to cure this. Lets stop kidding ourselves. Anybody with half a brain sees that something has been off for 30 years now.

Comment by: D'light (Chicago) Thu., May. 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm UTC
I am more on the optimistic side and perhaps this time a cure is near for real. Remember there are people already cured of this desease in rare circuntances. This gives scientifics the concept or the idea on how it happened. So I don't doubt that people with HIV will be blessed with a cure and will not be too far from today.
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Comment by: Robert (CT) Thu., May. 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm UTC
I think we all fully realize the cure is not around the corner... but please stop being Negative Nancy’s!!! Be optimistic, please and thank you!
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Comment by: Gus Cairns (London) Thu., May. 9, 2013 at 3:11 am UTC
Nice piece, David
Gus Cairns
aka the 'prominent activist'!
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Comment by: luis (miami) Wed., May. 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm UTC
Sadly the researchers helped to creat this false buzz. i have 2 mails from doctor soogard where despite the article being out, he never denies what the article claims.
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Comment by: Luis (San Francisco, CA) Wed., May. 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm UTC
Of course there will not be a cure, because if there would be one, people like the writer will be out of job!

Go ahead! Knock every hope people may have! Just make sure the sad profession you have chosen, continues and you keep you job forever!
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Replies to this comment:
Comment by: mike (san diego) Fri., May. 10, 2013 at 1:17 am UTC
its all about money
Comment by: Warren ( Fri., May. 10, 2013 at 2:43 pm UTC
That's a very cynical point of view. I'm sure David would agree with me when I say I would much rather have HIV cured than have this job. There will always be more jobs. As human beings, we want diseases to be cured.

Not to mention, a lot of people who work in HIV and write about it are positive themselves. I'm sure they want a cure more than a job writing about HIV.
Comment by: David (AZ ) Sat., May. 11, 2013 at 12:50 pm UTC
That is so true, there are so worry to out job. I hate them.

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