Timothy Ray Brown, who became known as the “Berlin Patient” when he was cured of HIV in 2008 after undergoing a complex stem cell transplant for lymphoma, has died.
The International Aids Society said Timothy died in California after relapsing with cancer.
Timothy’s HIV-free status had given hope to the millions of people living with HIV that a cure was possible.
However, for the past six months, Timothy had been living with a recurrence of the leukaemia that had entered his spine and brain. He had remained HIV free, IAS said in a statement.
His partner, Tim Hoeffgen, announced Timothy’s death on social media.
“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy passed away this afternoon surrounded by myself and friends, after a five-month battle with leukaemia,” Hoeffgen wrote.
Adeeba Kamarulzaman, President of the IAS, sent the society’s condolences to Timothy’s partner, Tim, and his family and friends. “We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Hütter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible.”
In 2007, Timothy, who had been living with HIV and with acute myeloid leukaemia, received a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was naturally resistant to HIV in Berlin, Germany.
The donor was naturally resistant to HIV infection because of a mutation in the CCR5 gene, a critical protein required by HIV to enter and infect cells.
Timothy stopped antiretroviral therapy (ART) very soon after the transplant and he remained free of any detectable virus. In other words, he was cured.
His experience suggested that HIV might one day be curable, IAS says.
This fuelled a range of efforts by researchers and institutions focusing on HIV cure research.
A full decade after Timothy’s cure, Adam Castillejo, who had also been living with HIV, reportedly remained in HIV remission off ART, 19 months after receiving a bone marrow transplant for Hodgkin’s lymphoma from a CCR5-negative donor.
Now known as the “London Patient”, he remains in remission and is widely considered to be the second man cured of HIV.
In late August this year, it was reported that Loreen Willenberg, a woman who had been living with HIV since 1992, had no traces of intact HIV despite not using ART.
She may be the first person cured of HIV without undergoing a risky bone marrow transplant. Researchers believe that she may be an “extreme elite controller”, where only fragments of HIV remain and these fragments are unable to replicate.