Early studies show Merck's cancer drug may target dormant HIV

International research has found that pembrolizumab is capable of reversing the incubation period of HIV.

Researchers examining Merck & Co Inc's cancer drug Keytruda for HIV patients with cancer claim the immunotherapy could help displace the virus from human immune cells, opening up a new field of research for chronic HIV infection treatment. Many HIV patients may now lead normal lives thanks to antiretroviral therapy, but the drugs do not totally eradicate the virus from the body. Remaining reservoirs of virus mean patients will never be truly cured of the infection. By blocking a protein known as the Programmed Cell Death Receptor (PD-1) that tumors employ to avoid cells that fight disease, Keytruda, also known as pembrolizumab, forces the body's own immune system to fend off cancer. It's a monoclonal antibody that's meant to aid.

Such drugs work by unlocking molecular brakes, that tumors use to escape the body's immune system, allowing immune cells to recognize and attack cancer cells in the same manner they fight germs and viruses. International research collaboration has found evidence that pembrolizumab can reverse the incubation period of HIV. This is the ability of the virus to “hide” in the cells of people living with HIV who are receiving antiretroviral therapy.The study, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, enrolled 32 people with both cancer and HIV. The participants were also being treated with effective antiviral medicines for HIV. “Pembrolizumab was able to disrupt the HIV reservoir,” said Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infectious Immunology in Melbourne, Australia, in a statement.