Gauteng / 18 December 2015, 3:23pm / NTANDO MAKHUBU
Pretoria - Clinical trials are under way at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria which, if successful, will change the face of HIV treatment in South Africa and the world.
The drug trials are being carried out on behalf of an international manufacturer, and success will bring drastic changes to the country’s economy and improve the quality of lives.
The clinical trials will test the efficacy of the drug’s ability to totally eradicate the virus, which hides in various reservoirs in the bodies of HIV infected people, avoiding detection by the body’s immune defenses.
A number of patients are accommodated in specially designed wards at the Innovation Hub in the city for the first phase testing stage.
“The success of the drug will bring a completely different mechanism to what exists in HIV treatment,” said Dr Mark Fyvie, chief executive officer of VX Pharma, located at the science and technology park east of the city.
The tests were a pivotal study, after which the manufacturer will decide whether or not to move forward to larger studies.
“Patients are staying here for about 10 days, during which intravenous medication is administered,” Fyvie said.
Their blood samples are then collected and shipped off to the manufacturer that then analyses them to determine the effectiveness of the drug or lack of it.
Fyvie heads the clinical research and site management organisation which has hi-tech equipment to facilitate its work, including the production of comprehensive solutions for four-phase clinical trials.
It is one of many facilities worldwide running clinical trials on the drug, which Fyvie said was similar to other ongoing studies on destroying the viral reservoirs.
“This drug will have massive health implications and uplift the quality of lives,” he said.
And although the tests were still in the early stages and could possibly be extended before the drug was declared effective, the process had received the thumbs-up from stakeholders in the health sector and those fighting against the HIV-Aids pandemic.
Pretoria pathologist Dr Zandiswa Mokoena said “small pockets” of the virus had the resilience to survive attacks from drugs or the immune system.
“The end-game for science is to find a way to eradicate all reservoirs. Once they are understood, ways to attack and eradicate them will follow.”
That would be the end of the disease, Mokoena said, adding that research such as that which produced the drug in the first place was the only way to achieve this.
Deputy director-general for regulation and compliance in the Department of Health, Dr Anban Pillay, said all work being done to either find a cure or provide mitigation for HIV was a step in the right direction. He said the drug test being done in the city should be lauded.
“The work has to be encouraged, and we need to allow these tests to run their course.”
Secretary-general of the Treatment Action Plan, Anele Yawa, also welcomed the trial. “We will know the complications of the drug, its side effects, benefits and advantages,” he said. The eradication of the virus was one of the most anticipated results of scientific research, he said. “The only hurdle which will follow success will be accessibility of the drug to those who really need it,” Yawa said.
According to the World Health Organisation, HIV is able to remain a chronic, life-long infection because of its ability to stay hidden in reservoirs in infected blood cells.
These are located throughout the body and in them, the virus is invisible to the body’s defenses and anti-retroviral treatment.
Reservoirs are found in the brain, lymphoid tissue, bone marrow, bowels and genital tract and according to some studies, attacking the reservoirs will be the key to curing Aids.