Australian study turns HIV against itself (Update)

by Amy Coopes
File picture. An Australian scientist said he had discovered how to turn the HIV virus against itself to stop it progressing to AIDS, describing it as a major breakthrough in finding a cure for the disease.

An Australian scientist said Wednesday he had discovered a way to turn the HIV virus against itself in human cells in the laboratory, in an important advance in the quest for an AIDS cure.

David Harrich from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research said he modified a protein in HIV that normally helps the virus spread, into a "potent" inhibitor.

The protein was introduced to immune cells targeted by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), where it slowed the reproduction of the virus after infection.

The experiments were conducted in a lab dish, and thorough testing on lab animals is needed before any human trials can begin.

"I have never seen anything like it. The modified protein works every time," said Harrich.

Harrich's team, whose study is published in the journal Human Gene Therapy, said the modified protein dubbed Nullbasic inhibited virus replication about eight- to ten-fold in some cells.

"If this research continues down its strong path, and bear in mind there are many hurdles to clear, we're looking at a cure for AIDS," the researcher said.

Commenting on the study, Frank Wegmann, an Oxford University HIV vaccine researcher, told AFP a Nullbasic-based drug was "quite far from application".

Creating a drug would be challenging, he said, as it would require introducing "designed" information into the genes of people to be treated.

"The immune cells of the blood are the primary cells which are infected by HIV and if you want to have a cure with this new protein, you need to... get every immune cell to make this protein," he explained.

This would require gene therapy—a complicated, rare, potentially dangerous and very expensive option.

"They (the Australian researchers) have partly addressed that question. They have partly tested that (gene therapy), but not really in patients or in infected people, only in the lab."

Harrich said Nullbasic held promise for curbing the spread of the virus as well as for treating people who already have AIDS, and described it as "fighting fire with fire".

"The virus might infect a cell but it wouldn't spread," he said.

"You would still be infected with HIV, it's not a cure for the virus, but the virus would stay latent, it wouldn't wake up, so it wouldn't develop into AIDS.

"With a treatment like this, you would maintain a healthy immune system."

An HIV-infected person is said to have AIDS when their count of CD4 immune system cells drops below 200 per microlitre of blood or they develop any one of 22 opportunistic infections like cancer or tuberculosis as a result.

Most people infected with HIV, if left untreated, would develop AIDS about 10 to 15 years later, according to the UN. Antiretroviral treatments can prolong this window period.

The new Nullbasic therapy, if proven, could see the spread of HIV halted indefinitely, bringing an end to the deadly condition, said Harrich.

Using a treatment based on a single protein could spell an end to onerous multiple drug regimes for HIV patients, meaning a better quality of life and lower costs.

Animal trials are due to start this year.

Even if all goes according to plan, said Wegmann, a Nullbasic-based treatment was probably about 10 years off.

"There are many other potential strategies towards a cure, but so far nothing works and it's not clear whether anything will ever work," he said.

"One really has to wait for results of animal studies and clinical trials to really judge this."

UN figures show the number of people infected with HIV worldwide rose to 34 million in 2011 from 33.5 million in 2010.

The vast majority (23.5 million) live in sub-Saharan Africa, with another 4.2 million in South and Southeast Asia.

There were 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths worldwide in 2011—24 percent fewer than in 2005 and nearly six percent below the 2010 level.

New HIV infections have at least halved in 25 low and middle income countries over the past decade.

The UN said in November that achieving zero new infections in children appeared increasingly possible.

More information: Paper: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23298160

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antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2013
I'm always hopeful that something like this will pan out. It's hard not to remain sceptical - as so many cures/vaccines for HIV/AIDS have come and gone. (Of course it is a "gambler's fallacy" to extrapolate from past failures to success/failure of an unrelated development. So a neutral attitude is warranted)

I hope this goes fast to phase 1 and 2 trials.
Sinister1811
2.6 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2013
I hope this goes fast to phase 1 and 2 trials.


So do I. Unfortunately, however, the trials are said to go for about another ten years. Man, these things just couldn't take long enough, could they?
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2013
Unfortunately, however, the trials are said to go for about another ten years

That's a pretty standard run for getting pharmaceuticals from first idea to market. Wouldn't do to overlook any long term side-effects before releasing something as potentially widely used as this into the wild.
(Also a reason why drugs are so expensive - albeit just one reason. The profit margins on most drugs are still pretty obscene, even accounting for this)
Howard_Vickridge
5 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2013
I admire the tenacity of the researchers. It's got to be a vocation to commit so many years pursuing what has been a long-elusive goal. Good on them, and I hope the ongoing work goes on well. That's a smart idea, working on the process of the disease and not (as is usual) taking shots directly at the pathogen.
hjbasutu
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2013
The pharmaceutical companies are getting billions from the current state of things(no HIV cure)..what they want is a patient who continues to buy drugs till his last days (a perfect money cow)...so either this drug will be damn expensive or will never see the light of the market.Suppressed cures...ring a bell?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 16, 2013
That's a smart idea, working on the process of the disease and not (as is usual) taking shots directly at the pathogen.

On that note you also hav to look at it from the side of the pharmaceutical companies (who usually -at last in part- fund such research).
Pharmaceutical companies are profit oriented. This means that a vaccine or a drug that temporarily alleviates (preferrably chronic) symptoms is infinitely preferrable to a cure to them.

A cure you can sell once to a sick person. A remedy to a sympton of a chronic disease will have them buying your product their entire lives. As you can see: there's no money in cures. Least of all ones that could potentially completely wipe out the disease.

That said: A remedy that removes the symptoms is still better than no remedy.
hjbasutu
not rated yet Jan 16, 2013
That's a smart idea, working on the process of the disease and not (as is usual) taking shots directly at the pathogen.

On that note you also hav to look at it from the side of the pharmaceutical companies (who usually -at last in part- fund such research).
Pharmaceutical companies are profit oriented. This means that a vaccine or a drug that temporarily alleviates (preferrably chronic) symptoms is infinitely preferrable to a cure to them.

A cure you can sell once to a sick person. A remedy to a sympton of a chronic disease will have them buying your product their entire lives. As you can see: there's no money in cures. Least of all ones that could potentially completely wipe out the disease.

That said: A remedy that removes the symptoms is still better than no remedy.

Very well so, antialias
marble89
not rated yet Jan 16, 2013
Drugs are so expensive in this country because of the litigatious nature of our society. Laws and regulations are supposedly designed to protect us - and of course they do - up to a point. But in our society if 1 out of a 1000 people have a relatively minor bad side affect to a med in trials it will never make to market. EVEN if that med might save the lives of the other 99.9%. The primary reason we have the HIV meds we do today is due to groups like ACTUP that used intrusive in-your-face tactics to demand speedy release of meds that might still be in phase XXXXXX trials today.
Birger
5 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2013
A simple way to test the drug quickly would be to ship it to sub-saharan africa where most people with HIV get no antiretroviral drugs anyway. It would violate the rules, but would at least give those people *some* hope.
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2013
A simple way to test the drug quickly would be to ship it to sub-saharan africa where most people with HIV get no antiretroviral drugs anyway. It would violate the rules, but would at least give those people *some* hope.


I agree with the sentiment. But what if this modified protein causes unforeseen mutation of the hiv virus itself. I worry with all of todays antiretroviral yada we are going to breed a badder bug.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2013
It would be interesting to find out why the closest relative of HIV which is SIV in Simians (Apes) causes no health problems for Bonobo monkeys despite their prolific sexual interactions, within and outside their groupings and over a long period of time.
Its interesting that human HIV shows genetic lineage from SIV from the early 1990's or so...

Lots of interesting stuff on this link and not just re SIV, seems these 'monkey's are very close to a lot of human behaviour,
http://en.wikiped...i/Bonobo

Cheers
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 17, 2013
A simple way to test the drug quickly would be to ship it to sub-saharan africa where most people with HIV

That doesn't speed up trials because you're not in a controlled setting.
Giving people who have the illness in a very advanced stage IS one of the phases of drug trials in any case. Whether you do it here or in Africa doesn't matter.

And real widespread use of a completely untested drug is in any case a bad idea - because only 1 in 100 drugs actually has any effect. The likelyhood of causing a LOT of widespread damage is far too great.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2013
antialias_physorg offered a simplification
And real widespread use of a completely untested drug is in any case a bad idea - because only 1 in 100 drugs actually has any effect. The likelihood of causing a LOT of widespread damage is far too great.
Is this your considered opinion before or after the various stages of tissue culture, related in vitro trials and pre trial in-vivo allergen tests et cetera ?

And... Is this current prior or post the various advancements in protein comparative relational tests in respect of existing antibody in vitro reactions on previous variants of HIV & SIV ?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 17, 2013
We've seen that unexpected stuff can crop up. A few years ago a trial went awfully wrong - even though none of the pre trials showed anything.
http://www.newsci...ort.html
Imagine what would have happened if we'd jump the gun and just release something like this in the wild.

There's a reason why we have the trial stages and why they have the durations and number of participants specified. Getting new pharmaceuticals to market is a tricky business. Only about 1 in 100 makes it through all phases.

Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2013
Let me see if I understand this fully antialias_physorg as you previously offered
..because only 1 in 100 drugs actually has any effect
Call this 1. To a rather different picture in your most recent post of
Only about 1 in 100 makes it through all phases.
Call that 2.
Understandably there are probabilistic issues but, pray tell which of the two comments from you in sequence antialias_physorg, which are quoted above, is the most likely to have the most appropriate bell curve interaction relationship ?

ie. Just to be really clear:-

1. "because only 1 in 100 drugs actually has any effect", which I take it to mean no ill effects
AND/OR/OTHER
2. "Only about 1 in 100 makes it through all phases."
I take it this means have some useful effect & insignificant deleterious effect in terms of the predefined metrics as determined prior to the various drugs development.

Do you have a suggestion/opinion of how this differential can be managed and/or which is most likely to be true ?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 18, 2013
which of the two comments from you in sequence antialias_physorg, which are quoted above, is the most likely to have the most appropriate bell curve interaction relationship ?

The 'has any effect' statement was worded badly. My bad.
Some drugs in the trials do have effects but the side effects outweigh the benefits and/or there are already better drugs on the market.
So a more accurate statement would be that only 1 in 100 drugs that go to phase 1 ever make it to market.

The phased trial system allows drug companies to abandon a drug at any stage. This is important because the latter stages become increasingly more expensive. A full drug trial through all phases can cost up to 100 million dollars.

For a drug to be approved it must show:
- safety (which is defined by the incidence number and severity of side effects)
- efficacy (as determined compared to drugs already on the market)

It's not good to put out a drug that is less effective and/or has unknown side effects.
marble89
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2013
"For a drug to be approved it must show: - safety (which is defined by the incidence number and severity of side effects) - efficacy (as determined compared to drugs already on the market"

This is the core of the problem. Terms like " safety" and " efficiacy" are subjective terms too often arbitrarily defined by obscure " cover your ass" epdemiological bureaucracies which are themselves products of our "sue their ass" society.. The patient is the one who should ultimately decide what levels of safety and efficacy to accept.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2013
marble89 blundered with this obvious problem...
The patient is the one who should ultimately decide what levels of safety and efficacy to accept.
How can you opossibly perate under any sort of surety the patient is ever, in any way shape or form, suitably *educated* to be able to make any such such decision ever and if they were 'then' who says they will be able to keep up with the pace of change so they can make a suitable decision 'now' or rather - when it actually matters ! ?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 19, 2013
The patient is the one who should ultimately decide

People who are in dire need (medical, financial, ...) don't make rational choices.

If you leave the decision to the patient then the next thing you have is millions of snake-oil merchants.
marble89
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2013
My comment served it's purpose. You are at least considering it. But while your comments are no doubt well intentioned they are a classic example of exactly what i just said. You are saying because a few patients might not be able to make what appear to be competent decisions we MUST DENY ALL patients of that right. A sarcastic respone might be " the nanny state run amok".
marble89
1 / 5 (1) Jan 19, 2013
My comment served it's purpose. You are at least considering it anti_ and mike_.But while your comments are no doubt well intentioned they are a classic example of exactly what i just said. You are saying because a few patients might not be able to make what appear to be competent decisions we MUST DENY ALL patients of that right. A sarcastic respone might be " the nanny state run amok".
flumoxed
not rated yet Jan 20, 2013
Check out Calimmune-they already have a potential cure in clinical trials