London patient second in world to be cleared of HIV

A London hospital patient is the second person in the world to be cleared of the HIV virus, doctors have said.

The male patient has achieved “sustained remission” from HIV after being treated at Hammersmith Hospital in west London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust said.

The case report, led by researchers at UCL and Imperial College London, comes around a decade after the first known case in Berlin.

In 2003, the male patient was diagnosed with HIV infection and developed an AIDS defining cancer, advanced Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, in 2012.

In 2016, he received a transplant of haematopoietic stem cells from a donor carrying a genetic mutation in the HIV receptor CCR5, which hinders the HIV virus from entering human cells.

He has now been in remission for 18 months after his antiretroviral drugs were discontinued, researchers said.

The male patient has achieved ‘sustained remission’ from HIV after being treated at Hammersmith Hospital. Credit: PA

Professor Eduardo Olavarria, from Imperial College London, said: “While it is too premature to say with certainty that our patient is now cured of HIV, he is clearly in a long-term remission.

“We continue to monitor his condition; however, the apparent success of this treatment injects new hope in the search for a long-awaited cure for HIV/AIDS.”

Similar therapy has been successful once before with “Berlin Patient”, a US man treated in Germany 12 years ago who is still free of HIV.

Mr Brown said he would like to meet the London patient and would encourage him to go public because “it’s been very useful for science and for giving hope to HIV-positive people, to people living with HIV”.

The case was published online by the journal Nature and will be presented at an HIV conference in Seattle.

The study’s lead author, Professor Ravindra Gupta, said: “Finding a way to eliminate the virus entirely is an urgent global priority, but is particularly difficult because the virus integrates into the white blood cells of its host.”

He added: “By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly, and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people.”

The approach is not appropriate as a standard HIV treatment due to the toxicity of chemotherapy, he warned, but said he is “hopeful” it will help them develop strategies that might eliminate HIV altogether.

Timothy Ray Brown, known as the ‘Berlin Patient' was the first person to be cured of HIV infection. Credit: Manuel Valdes/AP

Dr Michael Brady, medical director at HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, praised the breakthrough but said researchers were “still some way off” from establishing a cure.

He said: “But what we are able to say with certainty is that, through early diagnosis and access to treatment, you can live a long, healthy life with HIV and be confident you won’t pass the virus to your sexual partners.

“With regular testing, condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the fact that people on effective HIV treatment cannot pass on the virus, we have the ability to completely prevent new HIV transmissions.

“Today’s news is a welcome development for many people living with HIV, but we must not take our eye off the ball in ensuring we use the tools we already have that can help us towards zero new transmissions.”