A 51-year-old French cancer patient with HIV exhibited a noticeable decrease in the virus in his blood after taking medications for cancer. This is the first confirmed case of a cancer drug that experts say could work in killing HIV cells.
The patient's doctors at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital published the cancer patient's case in the Annals of Oncology on World AIDS Day. He received Opdivo (nivolumab) treatments when doctors discovered a huge decrease in the patient's viral reservoirs.
These reservoirs contain latent cells with HIV that normally go undetected in other HIV treatments, thus most AIDS cure cannot completely eradicate the virus. Laboratories all over the world are developing ways to detect and decrease these HIV reservoir cells for years.
The study authors theorized that Opdivo, which is also known as a checkpoint inhibitor, blocked an immune modulator called PD-1. The resulting effect awakened these infected cells and made it vulnerable to the immune system.
"In this patient we observed, as expected, both a re-activation of HIV and an increase in CD8 T-cell responses against HIV," Professor Jean-Philippe Spano, the head of the study, said. "[This] resulted in the drastic decrease in the HIV reservoir thus leading to a sustained reduction of the HIV reservoirs."
Some experts, however, cautioned that one patient's progressive case might not be conclusive and it's still too early to tell if the cancer medication is a viable HIV AIDS cure. The study authors acknowledged that another cancer patient with HIV was also administered Opdivo but showed no signs of progress when it came to decreasing the virus.
Researchers will continue giving the French cancer patient Opdivo as his disease's prognosis shows promising signs. The group plans to undergo further trials for biomarkers that may aid in other PD-1 therapy studies.
Doctors diagnosed the patient with lung cancer in 2015 and he had surgery and chemotherapy. Doctors gave him Opdivo following a relapse.