Cancer Drugs May Fight HIV


A combination of two cancer drugs may prove to be effective in the fight against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). In a recent study, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs, decitabine and gemcitabine, eliminated HIV infection in mice.

HIV/AIDS Around the World

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. UNAIDS figures reported in 2009 noted that 31.1 to 35.8 million people around the world were living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2008. In developing countries, 9.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving drugs for AIDS, but only 4 million are getting them. In the meantime, the search for effective HIV/AIDS treatment goes on.


New HIV Study
Investigators at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center discovered that when they combined decitabine and gemcitabine and administered the drugs to mice with HIV, the infection was eliminated. Specifically, the drug combination caused the virus to mutate itself uncontrollably until it died, a process the scientists called “lethal mutagenesis.”

According to virologist Louis Mansky, PhD, one of the study’s authors, HIV mutates quickly, which makes it difficult to treat. However, in their study “we wanted to take advantage of this behavior by stimulating HIV’s mutation rate, essentially using the virus as a weapon against itself.” This is the first time such an approach has been used to fight HIV without causing toxic side effects.

The investigators are hopeful this work can move ahead quickly, since both cancer drugs already have FDA approval. If the drug combination proves effective in large animals, it will be easier for scientists to move ahead with development for use in humans in the fight against HIV and the millions of people worldwide living with the disease.

Avert International AIDS charity
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
University of Minnesota, news release August 20, 2010