Product(s) used in this publication: PepMix™ Peptide Pools
Although anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is successful in suppressing HIV-1 replication, HIV latently infected reservoirs are not eliminated, representing a major hurdle in efforts to eradicate the virus. Current strategies to eradicate HIV involve two steps: (1) the reactivation of latently infected cells with latency reversing agents (LRAs) to expose persisting HIV, and (2) the elimination of these cells with immune effectors while continuing ART to prevent reinfection. HIV-specific T cells (HSTs) can kill reactivated HIV-infected cells and are currently being evaluated in early-stage immunotherapy trials. HIV can mutate sequences in T cell epitopes and evade T cell-mediated killing of HIV-infected cells. However, by directing T cells to target multiple conserved, non-escaped HIV epitopes, the opportunity for viral escape can be reduced. Using a good manufacturing practice (GMP)-compliant platform, we manufactured HSTs against non-escape epitope targets (HST-NEETs) from HIV+ and HIV-seronegative donors. HST-NEETs expanded to clinically relevant numbers, lysed autologous antigen-pulsed targets, and showed a polyfunctional pro-inflammatory cytokine response. Notably, HST-NEETs recognized multiple conserved, non-escaped HIV epitopes and their common variants. We propose that HST-NEETs could be used to eliminate reactivated virus from latently infected cells in HIV+ individuals following LRA treatment. Additionally, HST-NEETs derived from HIV-negative individuals could be used post-transplant for HIV+ individuals with hematologic malignancies to augment anti-viral immunity and destroy residual infected cells.