Very Early Treatment of Newborns with HIV Could Result in Medication-Free Remission for Many Babies

December 07, 2023

Evidence that an early treatment protocol could change the course of HIV infection in children

An unexpectedly high percentage of children, who were born with HIV and started treatment within 48 hours of life, exhibit biomarkers by 2 years of age that may make them eligible to test for medication-free remission, according to a multinational study published in Lancet HIV.

“Moving away from reliance on daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) to control HIV would be a huge improvement to the quality of life of these children,” said Protocol Co-Chair and senior author Ellen Chadwick, MD, former Director of Section of Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal HIV Infection at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The proof-of-concept study was charged with replicating the case of HIV remission as seen in the “Mississippi baby” that was reported in 2013. In that case, the infant started ART at 30 hours of life, was treated for 18 months, and achieved 27 months of ART-free remission before the virus rebounded. Typically, if ART is stopped, the virus rebounds within a month.

The study included a three-drug ART regimen initiated within 48 hours of life, with the fourth drug added within 2-4 weeks. This is very early treatment compared to the standard of care where three-drug ART may not begin until 2- 3 months of age. In the U.S., however, based on earlier findings from this study, very early treatment is now the norm for infants at high risk of acquiring HIV infection from their mother.

“With earlier treatment, we hope to limit or prevent the establishment of viral reservoirs in the body. These viral reservoirs hold small amounts of hidden virus which are hard to reach with ART. By shrinking these reservoirs, we expect to increase the amount of time that patients can be in remission, without needing daily ART,” said co-author Jennifer Jao, MD, MPH, from Lurie Children’s, who is the Protocol Co-Chair with Dr. Chadwick. She is a Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and holds the Susan B. DePree Founders' Board Professorship in Pediatric, Adolescent, and Maternal HIV Infection.

Dr. Chadwick adds: “Another benefit of smaller viral reservoirs might be that newer treatments such as long-acting antibody therapies or therapeutic vaccines could potentially be used instead of daily ART.”

“Our results show a higher percentage of children might be eligible to interrupt therapy than we expected, and the next step is to stop ART and see how many children actually achieve remission,” said Dr. Chadwick. “If even one child achieves remission, that would be considered a success. Today, newer more effective and better tolerated HIV medications are available for infants than when the study began, strengthening the prospect of limiting viral reservoirs and testing for possible remission in infants and children with HIV. Overall, this is an exciting advancement and an opportunity to change the course of pediatric HIV infection.”

The study was conducted in 11 countries – Brazil, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Overall support for the International Maternal Pediatric Adolescent AIDS Clinical Trials Network (IMPAACT) was provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) with co-funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), all components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under Award Numbers UM1AI068632-15 (IMPAACT LOC), UM1AI068616-15 (IMPAACT SDMC), and UM1AI106716-09 (IMPAACT LC), and by NICHD contract number HHSN275201800001I. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

Research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, which is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of knowledge. Lurie Children’s is a nonprofit organization committed to providing access to exceptional care for every child. It is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Lurie Children’s is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.