Five people living with HIV are currently free of the detectable virus after taking part in a new vaccine-based therapy.
The patients are also not taking daily antiretroviral drugs, with one having been drug free for a total of seven months; a milestone moment in a move towards a future where HIV treatment doesn’t require ART.
Normally if ART is stopped, the HIV virus quickly re-emerges from cells.
But the course of vaccinations seems to have been able to repress it before it starts replicating again.
Over the last three years at IrsiCaixa Aids Research Institute in Barcelona have been testing a combination of two innovative HIV vaccines, first developed by Tomas Hanke at the University Of Oxford.
The vaccines are designed to stimulate the production of white blood cells in the patient, these cells then recognise and destroy cells that have been infected.
In the most recent stage, patients were given a booster dose of one of the vaccines followed by three doses of Romidepsin (a cancer drug that has shown potential for flushing HIV out of hiding) and finally another vaccine booster.
They were then taken off their daily ART.
Out of the patients taking part, ten of them saw the virus rapidly bounce back meaning the trial had failed.
But the other five saw their immune system successfully suppress the virus unaided meaning they have, thus far, been able to live without medication for six, fourteen, nineteen and twenty-one weeks respectively.
The information, which was shared at the ‘Conference On Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections’ in Seattle this week, concluded that even though they don’t know why it worked for some people and not others, it is still a step in the right direction.
Around 50% of the world’s HIV population, estimated to be around 35 million by the World Health Organisation, have to take ART every day, which is expensive and can have bad side effects.
At the end of 2014, there were 103,700 people in the UK living with HIV and a further estimated 18,000 who do not know they are infected, according to NHS figures.