CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Fifteen years ago, MIT professor John Essigmann and colleagues from the University of Washington had a novel idea for an HIV drug. They thought if they could induce the virus to mutate uncontrollably, they could force it to weaken and eventually die out a strategy that our immune system uses against many viruses.
The researchers developed such a drug, which caused HIV to mutate at an enhanced rate, as expected. But it did not eliminate the virus from patients in a small clinical trial reported in 2011. In a new study, however, Essigmann and colleagues have determined the mechanism behind the drug's action, which they believe could help them develop better versions that would destroy the virus more quickly.
This type of drug could, they say, help combat the residual virus that remains in the T cells of patients whose disease has been brought into long-term remission by the triple-drug combination typically used to treat HIV. These viruses re-emerge periodically, which is why patients must stay on the drug cocktail indefinitely and are not considered "cured."
"This has really been the biggest problem in HIV," says Essigmann, the William R. and Betsy P. Leitch Professor of Chemistry, Toxicology, and Biological Engineering at MIT. "What we would hope is that over a long period of time on this type of therapy, a person would potentially have their latent pool mutated to the extent that it no longer causes active disease."
In the new study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of July 28, the researchers discovered exactly how the drug, known as KP1212, induces the HIV genome to mutate. The paper's lead authors are MIT postdocs Deyu Li, Bogdan Fedeles, and Vipender Singh, along with recent MIT PhD graduate Chunte Sam Peng. Essigmann and Andrei Tokmakoff, a former MIT professor who is now at the University of Chicago, are the paper's senior authors.
|Contact: Sarah McDonnell|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology