Accelerating COVID Research Thanks to HIV Science
The work of amfAR grantee Dr. Ravi Gupta is showcased in a new interview
In a June 6 Visionaries spotlight in The New York Times, writer Gautham Nagesh interviews Ravi Gupta, Ph.D., who is credited with curing Adam Castillejo, the London patient, of HIV. The article delves into Dr. Gupta’s productive detour into COVID-19 research after nearly two decades of HIV research. It also covers Dr. Gupta’s thoughts about the similarities between the two pandemics, mistrust of scientific authorities, and how HIV research laid the foundation for COVID-19 research.
After COVID hit, Dr. Gupta turned his attention toward SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and published some of the first research on rapid and antibody coronavirus testing. He and his team at the newly formed Gupta Lab at the University of Cambridge, UK, where he is professor of clinical microbiology, continued to produce groundbreaking research on how new coronavirus variants develop and breakthrough COVID infections.
“The response to SARS-CoV-2 has accelerated largely because of HIV advances,” Dr. Gupta notes when asked how earlier HIV research affected the response to COVID-19. “There have been huge advances in how we make drugs, target viruses, and a lot of this technology has been honed on HIV.”
In March 2019, long before the lockdowns began, he and his team had published their findings about the London patient in Nature.
Based on the procedure used to treat Timothy Ray Brown, the Berlin patient, Dr. Gupta utilized a bone marrow transplant to cure Castillejo of HIV. Castillejo was part of amfAR’s IciStem research consortium, (which was) established to identify, describe, and confirm cures in patients with cancer and HIV who received stem cell transplants. He is the second person living with HIV to be cured.
The transplant used donor stem cells with a genetic mutation (CCR5delta32) that makes cells resistant to infection by most strains of HIV. The procedure has also been used to treat the New York patient, who remains HIV-free more than 14 months after her transplant and may be the third person to have been cured in this fashion.
While stem cell transplants are not a feasible option for most people living with HIV, research into these successes increases what we know about achieving durable HIV remission and reconfirms that curing HIV may involve multiple strategies, not one size fits all.
Dr. Gupta received an amfAR grant to characterize the cure of the London patient. The case report, which provided longer term data and included sampling from HIV reservoir sites, was published in the May 20 issue of Lancet HIV.