Prevention and treatment therapies for HIV exist, but have been inadequate to eradicate the disease.
“For every person we can put on antiretroviral therapy, more than one person gets infected,” said Dr. Keith Jerome, associate member of VIDD and co-PI of defeatHIV.
The defeatHIV Martin Delaney Collaboratory is a consortium of investigators from public, private and government institutions based at the Hutchinson Center and dedicated to curing HIV. The Collaboratory was funded by a $20 million grant from the NIH in 2011. Jerome and Clinical Research Division member and defeatHIV co-PI Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem started the Collaboratory to facilitate collaboration and synergize research efforts among multiple organizations working toward curative HIV therapy.
“defeatHIV is wonderful because we can take what we’ve developed in the laboratory to the clinic and really see how our work can help patients,” Kiem said.
On June 18th the Hutchinson Cancer and defeatHIV hosted a scientific forum on future avenues for developing an HIV cure. This forum, led by Jerome and Kiem, also included VIDD member Dr. Julie McElrath and featured speaker Mr. Timothy Ray Brown, also known as “The Berlin Patient,” who is the first patient to be cured of HIV. The following evening over 300 people attended a community event held at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium to hear Brown tell his amazing story. The event featured a panel discussion moderated by Jim Dever of Seattle’s King 5 News and featuring Brown, Jerome, Kiem, McElrath and VIDD staff scientist Dr. Michele Andrasik.
Photo by Bo Jungmayer
“The Berlin Patient was a watershed moment for the concept of an HIV cure,” said Jerome.
Brown, who is originally from Seattle, discovered he was HIV-positive while living abroad in Berlin. He took the standard course of antiretroviral medication, up to 14 pills a day, and remained healthy. Years later, Brown was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He underwent two stem cell transplantations from a matching donor whose cells contained the rare mutation CCR5Δ32 that inhibits HIV entry into target cells and can prevent infection. As such, the genetic mutation was passed along to Brown. This procedure cured Brown of leukemia and after 5 years, receiving no antiviral therapy, he remains HIV-free.
“It’s an incredible feeling – like a miracle,” Brown said. “I had two lethal diseases and was able to get rid of both of them.”
The concept of using targeted gene therapy to cure HIV is very exciting to scientists like Jerome and Kiem. Kiem is developing a system using the HIV-infected person’s own stem cells to take the matched donor transplant completely out of the equation. The HIV-infected patient’s stem cells are modified in the lab with proteins called endonucleases, enzymes that cut DNA at specific sites, that the team has designed to introduce the CCR5 mutation into the DNA. These CCR5Δ32 cells are then put back into the patient with the hope of curing or efficiently controlling HIV infection. Jerome is using similar endonucleases to directly attack integrated HIV, in an approach that could avoid the need for a transplant altogether. These strategies would be one-time treatments, alleviating the need for a life-long course of antiretroviral medication that is often unavailable to those most in need.
“I’m very confident we’re going to find a cure for HIV,” Jerome said. “I hope it is soon.”
View the defeatHIV video featuring Jerome and Kiem
Media coverage of 'From One to Many'
Only person ever cured of HIV shares experience with scientists
KCPQ-TV, June 19, 2013
Seattle man cured of HIV speaks on panel at Seattle University
KING-TV, June 19, 2013
First person cured of HIV pushing for research
MSN News, June 19, 2013
First man cured of HIV meeting with Seattle scientists to recreate cure
KOMOnews.com, June 18, 2013
'It turned out that the HIV was easier to cure than the leukemia'
Seattle Weekly, June 18, 2013
'I don’t want to be only person cured of HIV'
The Seattle Times, June 17, 2013
‘Berlin Patient’ visits Seattle
Seattle Gay News, June 14, 2013