A group of researchers from the Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona has discovered that a drug used as a treatment for cancer is capable of eliminating reactivating cells of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. This new finding could be decisive in finding new ways for future treatments against this virus.
The scientist and researcher of the Infectious Diseases Group of the Barcelona center, María José Buzón, has provided more information on this medicine, whose name is “Rituximab” and was used repeatedly in cancer patients. This medicine works by eliminating cells that replicate the disease and that contain a molecule called “CD20” in their organisms.
This procedure is still in the testing phase and its use is not allowed in human patients, but so far, studies show that it can reduce up to 64% the presence of infected cells in the organism of the affected person and ended up hiding in reservoirs, going this way, unnoticed. This experimental phase allows us to design new ways to address the issue, and in the words of Buzón, “It is the only way to cure patients with HIV.”
The doctor of the same study, Adrià Curran, has been more cautious, since “we are not talking about an option that is the alternative to the current antiretroviral treatment, but rather that it is a new way that opens up to look for new better tolerated drugs with less toxicity and that can be used in clinical practice. ”
The study was conducted in 80 patients whose cells had reactivated the virus to fight it with “Rituximab”. The drug attacks cells with the aforementioned “CD20” molecule, but also other non-harmful organisms, such as lymphocytes, which are part of the immune system. That is why it is still undergoing tests and does not serve as an alternative for current antiretrovirals. Dr. Buzón describes the following phase as the one of improvement, since two drugs must be found: “one that reactivates the latent virus and another that eliminates it”, but at present there are no necessary materials and knowledge, and combinations during the test stage could be really toxic and harmful to patients.
The human immunodeficiency virus is a chronic disease with which affected people can live a normal life, as long as they follow the treatment strictly, which usually coincides with taking one to three tablets daily. Today it is a very effective and safe solution that, according to Curran, has made “people relax, have lost their fear of HIV”, even more so since infected people can stop being transmitters.
In Spain there are between 130,000 and 160,000 people with HIV, and 3,400 new cases per year. “It is a controlled infection but now it must be cured but people are no longer so aware” says the doctor himself. Education, therefore, is a key pillar to deal with the “physical, psychological and health impact” that the patient assumes when living with a lifelong treatment.