HIV was discovered way back in the 1980’s and for the first decade, people did not know much about the disease. According to WHO, there are 36.7 billion people living with HIV globally. Advancements in antiretroviral treatment means people these days are living long and healthy lives even with the virus in their system. This combined with the drug PREP which prevents HIV negative people from contracting the disease has greatly improved the quality of life for most infected people.
However, after almost 35 years of looking for a cure, there may be hope. Israeli Biotech Company, Zion Medical and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem may have come up with a potential cure. According to the initial phases of the trial, the drug called Gammora can eradicate up to 99% of the disease by inserting the virus’s gene material into the DNA of an infected cell.
The drug just recently passed its first human clinical trial and was found to significantly reduce viral load. During Phase I of the clinical trial, 9 patients received different doses of the drug Gammora for 4-5 weeks. During the Phase II of the trial, Gammora was then combined with antiretroviral treatment as well. The results showed that not only does the drug reduce viral load, it does so without harming healthy cells.
Gammora reduces viral RNA levels just like antiretroviral drugs do. However, the difference is antiretroviral drugs cannot permanently kill the cells. Gammora is designed to eliminate HIV infected cells by activating integrase. This is an enzyme that HIV uses to insert DNA into a healthy cell. Essentially, too much integrase overloads the healthy cell with too much HIV DNA causing the healthy cell to self-destruct killing the HIV virus in it too.
Ironically, some antiretroviral medication work to inhibit the integrase to stop the virus from inserting its DNA into its host’s health cells. Additionally, the drug increases the infected patient’s T-cell count which is an indication of a healthy immune system. It does all this without having any side effects to the patient which is a very rare occurrence.
When the news broke out on 30th October, as is expected most people went into a frenzy. Many people doubt the validity of the drug especially seeing that it lacks side effects – Gammora does not cure HIV. However, the Chief Operations Development Officer of Zion Medical said that they still have a long way to go. There are many more tests required before they can say for certain that it is a cure. The researchers working on the project hope to publish their results to be peer reviewed in a journal by 2019. The second phase of the trail is set to begin in the coming months with an increased pool of 50 patients and a period dosage of 3 months.