HIV Cure News: Lung Cancer Drug Shocks and Kills HIV in Patient's Blood

REUTERS/Athit PerawongmethaA nurse tests a blood sample during a free HIV test at a blood tests party, part of a campaign to prevent HIV infection among male same-sex couples, in Bangkok September 20, 2014.

A drug for treating lung cancer may one day be used in curing HIV.

While science has yet to come up with a cure for HIV/AIDS, experts are hoping that a lung cancer drug, Nivolumab, may prove itself to be the answer to those suffering from the disease. This came after a 51-year old incognito French patient suffering from both lung cancer and HIV was given the drug after his first treatment for lung cancer failed to work.

According to reports, the number of copies of HIV found in the incognito patient's blood rose when he was administered Nivolumab, prompting scientists to believe that the drug may have helped in exposing the hiding places of the HIV. As the virus became more visible, they became vulnerable to conventional immune system attacks, and, at the end of the treatment, the number of the HIV virus copies in the said patient's blood dropped again.

Nivolumab is also called Opdivo and is considered as a checkpoint inhibitor, which reveals tricky tumors containing proteins on their surface and tells a person's immune system not to attack them. Although the drug can also block the message the immune cells receive from the tumor cells, the drug enables the immune system to recognize cancer cells just the same. 

Researchers suspect that Nivolumab may have worked on the patient's case through a process dubbed as "shock-and-kill," which means that it may have spurred the HIV within the immune cells to come to life and replicate, which allowed the immune cells to identify and kill the infected cells. However, this is far from being conclusive and more research is needed before it can be said that it is really the case, much more than it only happened to one patient.

"It's difficult to speculate at this stage why the second patient did not show the same response. Differences in the size of the latent reservoir or genetic differences between individuals, affecting their ability to mount immune responses to HIV, might be important factors."Dr. Andrew Freedman, an infectious disease specialist at Cardiff University, said in an interview.