San Francisco Magazine has a long story today featuring Timothy Ray Brown—otherwise known as the Berlin patient—who is the first person to be HIV-positive but is now completely free of the virus. His treatment came in the form of a bone marrow transplant, which two projects funded by California’s stem cell agency are now working to replicate.
It’s a remarkable story and the reporter quotes CIRM board member Jeff Sheehy talking about meetings leading up to CIRM’s funding about whether there was even a need for a cure.
“One reviewer said, ‘The science is great, but there’s no need because patients are doing great. They’re happy with antiretroviral drugs,’” recalls Sheehy, who is also communications director for UCSF’s AIDS Research Institute. “That’s when I said, ‘No.’”
Sheehy told the committee that today’s HIV drugs, which he’s been taking since 1997, are far from a total solution. At best, they turn HIV/AIDS into a chronic condition that requires lifetime therapy, at a cost of around $20,000 a year. The drugs can have significant side effects, including bone, kidney, and liver damage. People living with HIV are also more prone to cancer, heart disease, cognitive problems, and a host of other conditions. (A recent study suggests that having HIV may cut a person’s life expectancy by 13 years.)
“I lose friends every year to cancer or heart disease,” Sheehy told his audience. “That wouldn’t be happening if they weren’t infected.’’ As the father of a seven-year-old daughter, Sheehy worries that HIV might have the same effect on him.
The story goes on to describe the science behind Brown’s cure and CIRM’s approach to replicating it. You can read summaries of the two projects at UCLA and City of Hope on our website. We’ve also blogged about the progress those teams are making toward their goal of reaching clinical trials.
Last year we talked to Sheehy about living with HIV infection and his hope for a cure: