Scientist Prof Sharon Lewin on Friday said it was crucial that HIV patients keep the virus under control in the absence of treatment.
“A whopping $50 billion will have been spent by 2030 to ensure HIV positive persons get anti-retroviral therapy. The numbers are not getting less as there are two million new HIV infections reported every year. So what patients need is a sterilising cure — to no longer be HIV positive,” said Lewin, who visited National AIDS Research Institute on Friday.
Lewin, who is co-chair for the 20th International AIDS conference to be held in July in Australia, called for stepping up research to find an HIV cure. An HIV cure may one day be scientifically possible but it will require substantial investment and collaboration to have any chance of becoming a reality, she added.
“The task of finding an HIV cure is too big for one laboratory or one country. There is a need for funding to conduct operational research. Research is getting harder and more expensive. Governments must support basic research projects,”she said.
Lewin, who is also Director of the Department of Infectious Diseases at The Alfred Hospital & Monash University in Melbourne, cited recent developments in HIV cure research, which made global headlines in the past few years. For instance, Timothy Brown, who was the first man to be cured of HIV/AIDS through a bone marrow transplant, and the case of the Mississippi baby who was treated with anti-retroviral drugs for HIV immediately after birth and two years since being taken off therapy at 18 months, remain free of HIV.
“Finding a cure for HIV or a way for patients to safely stop taking anti-retrovirals and keep the virus under control will have a very significant global economic and individual impact,” said Lewin. “The big challenge is to find a way out to permanently knock out these last reservoirs of the virus or boost the immune system to keep any remaining virus at very low levels.”
Lewin said another approach is to wake up the sleeping virus. A specialised anti-cancer drug Vorinostat recently showed just that in two clinical trials in Melbourne, Australia and North Carolina. The next step is to wake up the virus more effectively and also find a way to kill the infected cell”, she added.