Researchers in the US and Australia have found that a drug most commonly prescribed to fight alcoholism may be effective in identifying cells infected with HIV, a key first step in being able to destroy such cells according to scientists.
The drug, branded as Antabuse but also sold as a generic called disulfiram, was given to 30 HIV positive patients in the US and Australia who were already taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs.
At the highest given dose there was evidence that “dormant HIV was activated”, the researchers said in a study published in The Lancet HIV journal on Monday, adding they did not find any harmful side-effects.
Julian Elliott of the department of infectious diseases at the Alfred hospital in Melbourne, who worked with [Sharon] Lewin [a University of Melbourne professor who led the work], said waking up the virus was only the first step to eliminating it.
“The next step is to get these cells to die,” he said.
While scientists had been concerned about the toxicity of drugs that could ‘wake up’ and identify HIV-infected cells, Antabuse reportedly posed no problem for patients taking it. Said Lewin, “This trial clearly demonstrates that disulfiram is not toxic and is safe to use, and could quite possibly be the game changer we need.”