'Timothy Ray Brown, also known as the "Berlin patient," was the first person to be cured of HIV infection. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Valdes

Port Elizabeth - Hitting the high spot on Tuesday at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), the University College London (UCL) researchers announced continued HIV remission of a "London Patient" who was HIV positive.

The IAS welcomed the announcement saying that the man has remained in HIV remission and off antiretroviral therapy (ART) 19 months after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a CCR5 negative donor for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

University College London (UCL) researchers made the announcement at the CROI in Seattle, US.

Despite some differences, the IAS says that the case of the London Patient is similar to that of Berlin Patient, Timothy Brown, who has remained free of HIV and off ART since a bone marrow transplant 12 years ago. Brown is thus far the only adult who has been cured of HIV. 

“This is the second reported case of prolonged remission off antiretroviral therapy (ART) post bone marrow transplantation from a CCR5 negative donor,” IAS President Anton Pozniak said. 

“Although it is not a viable large-scale strategy for a cure, it does represent a critical moment in the search for an HIV cure. These new findings reaffirm our belief that there exists a proof of concept that HIV is curable. 

"The hope is that this will eventually lead to a safe, cost-effective and easy strategy to achieve these results using gene technology or antibody techniques,” Pozniak said.

In Berlin in 2007, Brown, an HIV-positive man with acute myeloid leukaemia, received a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV infection because of a mutation in the CCR5 gene, a critical protein required by HIV to enter and infect cells. 

He stopped taking ARTs soon after and 12 years later is still HIV-free, "in other words, he is cured".

This suggestion that HIV might be curable has fuelled research into a cure for HIV, including the IAS's efforts, Towards an HIV Cure, established in 2012.

The organisation promotes and facilitates the search for a safe and affordable cure that can be scaled up.

“The so-called London Patient has now been off ART for 19 months with no viral rebound which is impressive, but I would still be closely monitoring his viral load,” IAS Governing Council Member and co-chair of it cure initiative, Sharon Lewin, said. 

“Coming 10 years after the successful report of the Berlin Patient, this new case confirms that bone marrow transplantation from a CCR5-negative donor can eliminate the residual virus and stop any traces of virus from rebounding. 

"Two factors are likely at play – the new bone marrow is resistant to HIV and also the new bone marrow is actively eliminating any HIV-infected cells through something called graft versus host disease. There are similarities with the Berlin Patient case, but there are also differences.”

Mark Dybul, co-chair of the IAS initiative, said: “Despite the great success of ART, there remains a high need for a cure for HIV, especially in low-income settings. This case is as important as it is exciting. There is still more to discover.”

Founded in 1988, the IAS is the world’s largest association of HIV professionals, with members from more than 180 countries working on all fronts of the global response to HIV, to reduce the global impact of HIV. 

The IAS is also the agency for the International Aids Conference and IAS Conference on HIV Science, two of the world’s two most prestigious HIV conferences.

African News Agency (ANA)