Timothy Ray Brown, the first person known to have been cured of HIV when he had a unique type of bone marrow transplant, has died in California after relapsing with cancer.
Mr Brown, 54, became known as the “Berlin Patient” after his HIV was eradicated by treatment there in 2007.
Brown remained clear of HIV for more than a decade after being treated, but he had suffered a relapse of leukaemia in the past year.
His doctors said the blood cancer had spread to his spine and brain and he had recently been in hospice care in his hometown of Palm Springs, California.
It is with a profoundly heavy heart that the IAS bids farewell to Timothy Ray Brown, the first person to be cured of #HIV. Known as the “Berlin Patient”, Timothy was cured in 2008 after undergoing a complex stem cell transplant for lymphoma. Our statement: https://t.co/wcAFwTP7K5 pic.twitter.com/HpIwbp1pcr
— IAS – International AIDS Society (@iasociety) September 30, 2020
His partner, Tim Hoeffgen, announced Mr Brown’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,” Mr Hoeffgen wrote.
The American’s case fascinated and inspired a generation of HIV doctors as well as patients infected with the virus that causes AIDS, offering a glimmer of hope that one day a cure will be found.
Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society, said he would mourn Brown “with a profoundly heavy heart”.
“We owe Timothy and his doctor, Gero Huetter, a great deal of gratitude for opening the door for scientists to explore the concept that a cure for HIV is possible,” Professor Kamarulzaman said.
Mr Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 while living in the German capital, Berlin.
Gero Huetter was the doctor caring for Mr Brown in 2007 and took a chance on a treatment for him.
The treatment involved the destruction of Mr Brown’s immune system and the transplanting of stem cells with a gene mutation called CCR5 that resists HIV.
Only a tiny proportion of people – most of them of northern European descent – have the CCR5 mutation that makes them resistant to the AIDS-causing virus.
This and other factors made the treatment expensive, complex and highly risky.
Most experts say it could never become a way to cure all HIV patients, since many of them would risk death from the procedure itself.
Sharon Lewin, a professor and HIV specialist at Australia’s Doherty Institute said Mr Brown was “a champion and advocate for keeping an HIV cure on the political and scientific agenda”.
“It is the hope of the scientific community that one day we can honour his legacy with a safe, cost-effective and widely accessible strategy to achieve HIV remission and cure,” she said.
Only one other person, Adam Castillejo, is also thought to be in remission from HIV after having a similar treatment.
More than 37 million people worldwide are currently infected with HIV, and the AIDS pandemic has killed about 35 million people since it began in the 1980s.
Medical advances over the past three decades have led to the development of drug combinations known as antiretroviral therapies that can keep the virus in check, allowing many HIV positive people to live with the virus for years.