New HIV drug shows promising results, but not a cure

Derek Swanson, Co-News Editor

 A new highly effective HIV drug has just finished its first round of testing. In a press release, representatives of Zion Medical announced that the drug has shown a 99 percent effectiveness in eliminating the virus within four weeks of use.

Gammora works differently than other HIV medications currently on the market. While other drugs suppress the virus and slow its spread, Gammora actively works to kill infected cells, therefore reducing the presence of the virus in the body. Zion Medical described the mode of action of the drug in their press release saying: “Gammora is a synthetic peptide compound derived from the HIV enzyme integrase, which is responsible for inserting the virus' 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.”

However, the issue with Gammora is not the safety or the effectiveness of the drug. Patients in two separate studies were put on the drug for as long as 10 weeks, and no negative side effects were demonstrated. “These first clinical results were beyond our expectations and promise hope in finding a cure for a disease that's been discovered over 35 years,” said Dr. Esmira Naftali, head of development at Zion Medical, in a press release. The problem is with much of the wording chosen in the press release, namely the word cure.

Multiple media outlets have ran with the false idea that Gammora is the cure for HIV, spreading misleading information across the internet. Zion Medical attempted to clear the air about their new drug, tweeting on Nov. 7. “We are hopeful that Gammora may one day offer those affected by HIV a viable path to ridding themselves of infection. Much work remains in the mission, including additional trials, publication of results and the steps required to make Gammora commercially available.”

The study that found Gammora to be up to 99 percent effective will still need to be peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal to be considered legitimate by the rest of the medical community. This process will not likely occur until early 2019, so the drug will not be on the market for some time even if the findings in the study are accurate. While the future may look bright for Gammora, many scientists are skeptical to take the findings at face value. 

“If you have a virus trying to infect a new cell, this drug should get in the way of that process,” said Dr. Sarah Powers, assistant professor of biology. “I could see it being very helpful in halting the spread. For cells that already have the virus DNA integrated in them, that is after the stage where this drug would be useful.”

The medical community is no stranger to false claims of an HIV cure, or even to misguided science on the subject of HIV. One of the worst cases of a false HIV cure was the Mississippi Baby in 2013. Doctors administered anti-retroviral drugs to an infant born with HIV, and claimed that the infant was cured after no signs of the virus was detected. However, a year later it was discovered that the virus was still present in the child’s blood and appeared to be replicating.

If the claims behind Gammora turn out to be true, it will be a monumental achievement in HIV/AIDS research. But this does mean the 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV must wait for the study to be legitimized.