A third patient has reportedly made a successfully transition off HIV medication and is now free of the virus.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 7, 2019

News of the patient, who is located in Düsseldorf, Germany, came just a day after the second known patient to experience long-term remission from HIV without medication was first reported.

The German patient had also received a bone marrow patient. He stopped taking HIV medication only 3.5 months ago while the ‘London patient’, whose case was first reported on 4 March, has been off medication for 18 months.

Biopsies conducted on the gut and lymph nodes of the ‘Düsseldorf patient’ show no trace of infectious HIV, just fragments of viral genes that have no capacity to multiply.

New hope for patients with HIV

Both the Düsseldorf and London patients received bone marrow transplants from people who had a rare genetic mutation which makes them resistant to HIV.  In people who have the CCR5 mutation, the virus is unable to enter cells and thus cannot cause infection.

The two cases have now been presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle.

Bone marrow transplants are inherently risky and are considered a last resort treatment, so it is unlikely they could be used en masse to treat HIV patients. Still, the cases could be used by scientists to work towards new and improved treatments for the condition.

All three cases have involved patients receiving cancer treatment separate to their HIV diagnosis. The ‘Berlin patient’ received treatment for leukaemia (a cancer of the immune system) back in 2007. For 12 years, there were no recorded cases of a patient with the virus becoming free of it until this week’s reports.

A “complicated” breakthrough in treating HIV

There are also a number of other HIV-positive patients who have had bone marrow transplants, including two patients who haven’t yet come off their antiviral medications. Researchers are following their progress closely.

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, the United Nations’ AIDS Agency, said the organisation was “greatly encouraged by the news that an HIV-positive man has been functionally cured of HIV.

“Although this breakthrough is complicated and much more work is needed, it gives us great hope for the future that we could potentially end AIDS with science, through a vaccine or a cure,” Sidibé said.

“This will inspire people that cure is not a dream,” Dr. Annemarie Wensing, a Virologist at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, said after news of the ‘London patient’ broke. “It’s reachable.”