Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Feb 16 2022
Woman Possibly Cured of HIV: What Does it Mean for New Treatments?

In a promising announcement out of Colorado this week, a middle-aged woman may be the third person ever to be cured of HIV. The patient, who also had leukemia, received treatment for her cancer with a new transplant method that uses partially matched umbilical cord blood. The donor was chosen because they were naturally resistant to the AIDS virus.

Since receiving the treatment, she has been in remission from her leukemia for more than 4 years and free of the AIDS virus for 14 months. Though scientists and researchers are hesitant to say she’s been cured, it’s been heralded as a positive step for both HIV patients and treatments.

Cord blood, which is more widely available than adult stem cells used in other trials, does not need to be as closely matched between recipient and donor. And while most donors in registries are Caucasian, the fact that a partial match was used for the patient, who is of mixed race, opens up the potential for curing more people living with HIV from diverse racial backgrounds than was originally thought possible.

The case is part of a larger study following 25 people with HIV who undergo a transplant with stem cells from umbilical cord blood for the treatment of cancer and other serious conditions.

According to Hanna Tessema, Palladium Senior HIV and Evaluation Advisor, while this treatment may only be an option for some people, rather than a large-scale solution, it’s an injection of hope. “Potential cures provide hope, especially for Black and Brown communities who are disproportionately affected by and living with HIV. While likely not scalable for many people living with HIV, this potential cure is still a meaningful development.”

“We should continue to promote adherence to HIV medicines and PrEP use to prevent HIV for people at high risk. Highlighting PrEP is especially important because it is a highly effective HIV prevention method for Black women, who are largely unaware of its benefits,” adds Tessema.

So, what does this mean for HIV treatments moving forward?

According to Palladium Chief Medical Officer, Dr Farley Cleghorn, while this is not a treatment option for the majority of people living with HIV, it represents an advance for two reasons. “First, cancer of many types, but particularly leukemia and lymphoma, is an outcome of long term HIV, and having treatment options that can address both diseases is critical,” he notes.

“Secondly, the use of partially matched cord blood dramatically increases the donor pool for people of colour living with HIV, since there are much fewer fully matched donors available to them generally,” Cleghorn adds.

While there have been two prior instances where patients have been cured of HIV via bone marrow transplants from donors with the mutation that blocks the virus, both were men. This mutation is quite rare and has only been identified in about 20,000 donors, many of whom are of Northern European descent.

As Sara Bowsky, Palladium HIV Director, adds, it’s critical to also note that the patient is a woman. “Women account for only 11 percent of participants in cure trials but make up more than 50 percent of people living with HIV globally,” she notes. “This is really important not only for the obvious – gender equity – but also because HIV seems to progress differently in women.”

The good news is that umbilical cord blood is more widely available than adult stem cells from bone marrow, making this potential cure an option for more people, without the need of it being an exact genetic match. Researchers add that the sex and racial background of this new case is an important step in developing a more widespread cure for HIV for more people around the world.

For more information, contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com.