It turns out it may be possible to cure HIV one day.
Scientists have been studying retrovirals for years, trying to find a vaccine for HIV without much success. Part of the difficulty is finding participants who are willing to test the vaccines since the consequences of a vaccine failure are huge. I can’t find statistics on how many drug trials fail since I’m sure drug companies are not in any rush to publish that information, but I’m certain it’s not an uncommon occurrence. The whole premise of the scientific method is trial and error. Educated trials, but trials nonetheless.
Instead of studying retrovirals, researchers in Houston took a different tactic. Instead of looking for a vaccine, they appear to have found a way to kill the HIV virus after a person has contracted it. Apparently, there is a part of one protein in HIV that does not mutate. That is the way to disable the virus and allow healing. In may even be able to be used as a vaccine.
Dr. Sudhir Paul and Dr. Miguel Escobar, of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston are the researchers who made the discovery. They say that an abzyme created by people with lupus can not simply suppress HIV, but effectively neutralize it.
Of course, clinical trials are expensive. The treatment has worked in animal studies but before human studies can be conducted, there is an extensive approval process. There is also the ever-present need for research funding.
It’s difficult to get the funding for human trials because they are exorbitant and there is the possibility that it won’t pan out and the drug may not work. In an interview in Houston, Dr. Paul said, ““That is the worry of the researcher. This is what nightmares are made of – that after 30 years of work, you find it doesn’t work.”
It does make me wonder, though, “Who will be able to afford this drug, if it is approved by the FDA?” Because the clinical trials are expensive and the FDA approval process is lengthy AND expensive, a drug of this sort would not be available cheaply. There are drug assistance programs for people with HIV but they have a limited budget. Would we, as a country, consider this a public health issue great enough to use public funds to pay for people who are HIV positive to be treated? Somehow, I doubt that.
In any event, this is exciting news in the world of HIV and AIDS.