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Cindy Maddera

A retrovirus called VRX496 has demonstrated that gene therapy has the potential to treat HIV and other serious human diseases. VRX496 is a genetically altered AIDS retrovirus that impairs HIV viral replication. It’s sort of like a Trojan Horse, but instead of carrying soldiers it carries genetic material that inhibits HIV replication. Five patients with advanced AIDS experienced a decrease in viral load and an increase in white blood cells (the cells that fight off the bad things like bacterial and fungal infections) after being treated with VRX496. All of these patients had been unresponsive to at least two antiretroviral treatments. Normally white blood cells never go up in AIDS patients, but steadily decline year after year.

This phase I trial is very encouraging, but there’s still a lot of work to do. The phase II trial has started using AIDS patients whose virus is under control with the use of antiviral treatments. We’re looking at maybe another 20-25 years before we actually see VRX496 being used world wide to treat AIDS. Meanwhile 2.5 million people worldwide have died from this disease.

Let’s hurry things up people! Time’s a wastin’.