Gammora does not cure HIV

An Israeli biotech company has issued a misleading press release which has encouraged some media outlets to falsely suggest that a new drug, Gammora, may be able to cure HIV.

Zion Medical report that their study enrolled nine patients in Uganda. For the first four weeks, patients received a new drug called Gammora. “Most patients showed a significant reduction of the viral load of up to 90% from the baseline during the first four weeks” (emphasis added). In the second part of the study, patients also received conventional antiretroviral therapy. “The results found that combined-treated patients demonstrated sustained viral suppression and achieved HIV-1 RNA <300 copies/mL, and showed up to 99% reduction in viral load from baseline within four weeks.”

This is no better than conventional antiretroviral therapy – which, of course, the trial participants were also taking.

Glossary

deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

The material in the nucleus of a cell where genetic information is stored.

reservoir

The ‘HIV reservoir’ is a group of cells that are infected with HIV but have not produced new HIV (latent stage of infection) for many months or years. Latent HIV reservoirs are established during the earliest stage of HIV infection. Although antiretroviral therapy can reduce the level of HIV in the blood to an undetectable level, latent reservoirs of HIV continue to survive (a phenomenon called residual inflammation). Latently infected cells may be reawakened to begin actively reproducing HIV virions if antiretroviral therapy is stopped. 

cure

To eliminate a disease or a condition in an individual, or to fully restore health. A cure for HIV infection is one of the ultimate long-term goals of research today. It refers to a strategy or strategies that would eliminate HIV from a person’s body, or permanently control the virus and render it unable to cause disease. A ‘sterilising’ cure would completely eliminate the virus. A ‘functional’ cure would suppress HIV viral load, keeping it below the level of detection without the use of ART. The virus would not be eliminated from the body but would be effectively controlled and prevented from causing any illness. 

latent reservoir

The ‘HIV reservoir’ is a group of cells that are infected with HIV but have not produced new HIV (latent stage of infection) for many months or years. Latent HIV reservoirs are established during the earliest stage of HIV infection. Although antiretroviral therapy can reduce the level of HIV in the blood to an undetectable level, latent reservoirs of HIV continue to survive (a phenomenon called residual inflammation). Latently infected cells may be reawakened to begin actively reproducing HIV virions if antiretroviral therapy is stopped. 

host cell

A host cell is a living cell invaded by, or capable of being invaded by, an infectious agent (such as a bacterium or a virus).

 

The study has not been presented at a scientific conference, published in a peer-reviewed journal or registered with a regulatory agency. In their press release, Zion Medical describe the mode of action as follows. “Gammora is a synthetic peptide compound derived from the HIV enzyme integrase, which is responsible for inserting the virus's genetic material into the DNA of the infected cell. Gammora stimulates the integration of multiple HIV DNA fragments into the host cell's genomic DNA, to an extent that triggers the self-destruction of the infected cell, called apoptosis.”

The drug appears to be a broad-spectrum disrupter of viral replication (like ribavirin, a drug previously used in hepatitis C treatment). It might work to limit viral proliferation in established infection and the infection of further cells (as other antiretroviral drugs do).

However, there is no reason it would be active against the reservoir of latently infected cells (which already contain integrated HIV DNA). If it could cure, it would need to be active against the latent reservoir.

“The HIV world has seen quackery in different forms for decades – sadly this smacks of more of it,” Professor Francois Venter of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa commented.

“I looked at the press report and the unsophisticated company website, and even if you believe their claims, they are many years away from testing them,” he said. “This gives science and scientists a bad name.”