Immune-based therapies for HIV: a history

Richard Jefferys
ACRIA Update, Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 2001/2002

The discovery of HIV in the mid-1980s led to an intensive search for therapies that might inhibit the virus’s life cycle, a search that eventually produced the 16 antiretroviral drugs that are on the market today.

Finding treatments that might work by improving the function of the immune system — immune-based therapies (or IBTs) — has proved to be a more daunting task, mainly because the mechanisms by which HIV impairs immunity are still not fully understood. Without that understanding, IBTs have largely been shots in the dark, with some aiming to improve overall immune function (and thus prevent or delay opportunistic infections), and others attempting to specifically improve the immune response to HIV.

Over the years, many approaches have been proposed and studied, sometimes to great fanfare, but all have so far failed to demonstrate any measurable health benefit. As yet, there are no IBTs approved for the treatment of HIV infection or AIDS.

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