A new drug developed by Gilead Sciences has demonstrated an ability to wake HIV-infected cells from a latent state so the body’s immune system can target them and kill the virus, Project Inform reports.
Researchers presented results of the drug’s trials at the recent Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. Called GS-9620, it is a new type of drug known as a toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) agonist. Its results in studies as a treatment for hepatitis B made Gilead scientists think if it would be useful in reversing HIV latency, in a strategy known as “kick and kill.” One barrier to eradicating HIV is its ability to hide in a latent state, so bringing it out of latency can help the body kill it.
In one study, researchers at the Ragon Institute in Cambridge, Mass., took blood cells from four HIV-positive people who are on antiretroviral treatment and incubated them with GS-9620. This led to a rise in HIV RNA in three of the four donor cells. In another study, GS-9620 resulted in increased levels of virus in monkeys with SIV, the simian version of HIV.
“Given that the standard HIV treatment strategy is to reduce HIV levels, it might seem counterintuitive that you would want more virus in this case,” Project Inform reports. “But increased RNA levels are one sign that the inactive cells harboring the hidden HIV have begun to actively make virus and would thus be more susceptible to being killed.”
The drug’s safety is now being tested in a study on HIV-positive humans who are on antiretroviral treatment.