Cancer is the leading cause of death among people with HIV and yet cancer treatment can be risky as their immune system is already compromised.
Now, a new class of drugs developed at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales is providing hope—demonstrating it is effective in treating the cancer and strengthening the immune response to that cancer.
“Most cancer treatments further damage the immune system even as they treat the cancer,” says Dr Mark Polizzotto, the scientist leading the research.
“For people with HIV, they are already immune deficient, increasing the risks of treatment. But this medication actually helps the body to detect and fight the cancer.”
In 2016, Mark was awarded a grant from the Cancer Institute of NSW to commence clinical trials of these immune modulatory anti-cancer drugs on people with HIV.
This is a step forward in itself as people with HIV have almost always been excluded from clinical trials for cancer-related drugs because of the complexity of their condition.
Whilst his work focuses on cancer in those with HIV, Mark believes work in these special populations of patients can teach us about the role of the immune system and cancer in ways that are useful for all cancer sufferers.