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A study published in Nature Medicine (Nature Medicine 10, 1359 - 1365 (2004)) generated considerable interest in the use of a therapeutic dendritic cell-based treatment for HIV. In the study, 18 chronically infected and untreated HIV patients were treated with dendritic cells pulsed with the patient’s inactivated HIV virus. Viral load levels were decreased by 80% (median) over the first 112 days following immunization. Prolonged suppression of viral load of more than 90% was seen in 8 patients for at least 1 year. This particular dendritic cell-based therapy may be difficult to develop commercially because of the high viral burden (and/or the need for ex-vivo expansion of the virus) needed to produce the therapeutic. However, it suggests that Argos’ approach, which is also patient specific but requires only a small plasma sample, could be a promising strategy for treating people with chronic HIV infection.

In a second independent study (J. Infec. Dis. 191, 1680 (2005)) 12 patients were treated with dendritic cells pulsed with their own inactivated virus and vaccinated while receiving antiretroviral therapy. When the antiviral therapy was withdrawn, 1/3 of the patients had a significant reduction in viral loads relative to baseline levels and all patients showed a significant reduction in time to relapse and viral set points. These studies are significant in that they detail the first immunotherapeutic approaches utilizing patient-specific therapies to demonstrate durable control of HIV viral loads.