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A team of international researchers has made significant progress towards finding an effective and affordable targeted treatment strategy for an HIV cure. Led by Eric Arts and Jamie Mann, the team has developed a therapeutic candidate known as an HIV-virus-like-particle (HLP), which is 100 times more effective than other potential HIV cure therapeutics for individuals living with chronic HIV on antiretroviral therapy. This groundbreaking study, published in Emerging Microbes and Infections, utilized blood samples from people living with chronic HIV to demonstrate the efficacy of HLP in targeting and purging immune cells containing latent HIV reservoirs.

HLPs are comprised of dead HIV particles hosting a comprehensive set of HIV proteins, which enhance immune responses without infecting individuals. This innovative cure approach is not only highly effective but also affordable and can be administered through intramuscular injection, similar to the seasonal flu vaccine. The development of HLP has been in progress for over a decade and has shown promising results in driving out the last remnants of HIV-1. With continued support from collaborators in the U.S., Canada, and Uganda, the researchers believe that HLP could potentially provide a cost-effective cure for millions of individuals living with HIV globally.

While antiretroviral therapy (cART) has been successful in treating HIV, it has not been able to completely eradicate the virus from the body due to the formation of latent reservoirs where HIV remains dormant. The study conducted by the research team demonstrated that HLP specifically targets immune cells containing latent HIV reservoirs and eliminates the virus, a crucial step towards achieving an HIV cure. By successfully awakening latent reservoirs, HLP combined with cART has the potential to effectively eliminate HIV from the body, even in chronic cases.

The researchers also explored the genetic diversity of HIV and observed that HLP therapy was able to reverse latency regardless of the viral subtype, suggesting the global applicability of this treatment approach. Future studies will involve testing HLP on a larger cohort with subtype C infections in regions such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Vietnam, and India to assess its effectiveness for individuals living with acute and chronic HIV. The team is currently working on confirming the lack of toxicity of HLP in preparation for human clinical trials, which will be facilitated by the advanced Pathogen Research Center at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

Funding for this groundbreaking research was provided by the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Canada Research Chairs Program. Collaborating institutions included the University of Bristol, University of Toronto, Case Western Reserve University, Rakai Health Sciences Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The development of an effective and affordable HIV cure like HLP could bring us one step closer to ending the HIV pandemic by 2030, a goal shared by the World Health Organization, the Global Fund, and UNAIDS.

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