Friday, August 3, 2012

Merck researchers uncover clues that could lead to AIDS cure

By Bloomberg News

A Merck drug for a rare type of cancer flushed out hidden deposits of HIV in a study, according to researchers who say the results provide a hint that curing AIDS may someday be possible.

The finding on Merck’s Zolinza, reported today in the journal Nature, comes as researchers at the International AIDS Conference in Washington this week express optimism a cure is on the horizon. While current treatments hold the disease at bay, stopping the drugs can be a death sentence since it allows infected cells that remain hidden within the immune system to re-emerge, spreading the virus anew.

A single dose of Zolinza reactivated the hidden cells in eight infected patients, a first step toward finding and eliminating all virus traces from the body, according to investigators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Whitehouse Station-based Merck who undertook the research.

“If we ever have a cure for AIDS, a big part of it will be this type of strategy,” said Steven Deeks, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s all about getting the virus out of the hiding place and coming up with a way to kill it.”
Over the last few years, drugmakers including Gilead Sciences Inc., Merck, and Johnson & Johnson have been quietly building up teams of researchers focused on developing ways to wipe out hidden reservoirs of the virus, said Romas Geleziunas, director of clinical virology at Gilead, in an interview at the conference.

While the research remains years away from large-scale human testing, curing AIDS “is one of the hottest topics right now in biomedical research because there are finally ideas,” he said. “Pharma now is really behind this.”

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