A recent preclinical study led by Australian researchers has found that venetoclax, an existing drug used for treating blood cancers, can be repurposed to delay the reactivation of dormant HIV cells. This potentially groundbreaking discovery could pave the way for a cure for HIV and eliminate the lifelong need for antiretroviral therapy (ART). Currently, ART is effective at suppressing HIV but must be taken continuously, as stopping treatment can cause a flare-up of the infection from latent reservoirs in the body.
Venetoclax targets a ‘pro-survival’ protein called Bcl-2, which is prevalent in blood cancers and stops cancer cells from self-destruction.
When tested on mice, the drug delayed the viral rebound of HIV for up to two weeks after stopping ART. Combining venetoclax with another experimental drug, S63845, further delayed the viral rebound for up to four weeks in 50% of the cases.
The study’s implications are significant as it suggests a potential strategy for targeting and eradicating the latent HIV reservoir, which has been a major challenge in HIV research. However, it’s worth noting that the research is still at a preclinical stage, and further trials are needed to confirm its efficacy in humans.