Scientists may be on the verge of a cure for HIV thanks to new experiments done on monkeys. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health and Emory University achieved long-term remission of the virus in monkeys with an alternative form of antiretroviral therapy, according to an Oct. 13 press release by the National Institute of Health.

“The experimental treatment regimen appears to have given the immune systems of the monkeys the necessary boost to put the virus into sustained remission,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, co-leader of the study and chief of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The treatment also replenished most of the immune cells destroyed by the virus, something that can’t be done with current antiretroviral treatments alone.

The experimental treatment combined 90 days of antiretroviral therapy with 23 weeks of a laboratory derived monkey antibody similar to the human drug vedolizumab, which is used to treat Crohn’s disease. Current antiretroviral therapy alone suppresses HIV to undetectable levels, but the virus will bounce back as soon as treatment ends. That means a patient has to take anti-retroviral treatments every single day, forever.

RTS13Z8 Ruth Munyao, a pharmacist, dispenses anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs at the Mater Hospital in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Sept. 10, 2015. Photo: Reuters

“The new findings suggest an alternative form of HIV therapy that may eliminate a requirement for lifelong daily antiretroviral therapy, potentially improving the quality of life for people living with the virus and reducing the staggering, unmet cost of antiretroviral therapy for the 37 million people worldwide who need it,” said Aftab Ansari, co-leader of the study.

A trial using a similar treatment on HIV-infected humans is now underway at the National Institute of Health Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Preliminary results are expected by the end of 2017.

“At this point, it’s also unclear whether the findings of the newly reported animal study will translate to a clinical benefit for HIV-infected people,” said Fauci. 

In 2014, an estimated 44,073 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.