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April 2016

The Daily Telegraph article and examples of the media coverage that followed it:

  1. Cure for HIV possible within three years as scientists snip virus from cells– The Daily Telegraph, April 1, 2016. Update April 6, 2016: After receiving complaints, The Daily Telegraph has creditably responded by editing the headline and first paragraph to remove the claim that the approach may cure HIV infection “within three years” or “a few years.”
  2. HIV Could Be Cured Within Three Years – Fortune, April 1, 2016
  3. Cure for HIV reportedly 3 years away –, April 2, 2016

Examples of initial media coverage:

  1. Scientists remove HIV-1 from genome of human immune cells – United Press International, March 21, 2016
  2. Temple researchers snip HIV from infected cells, suggesting a cure is possible –, March 23, 2016

Community-based responses and articles: 

  1. Snipping the HIV Genome Out of Latently Infected Cells– TAG’s Michael Palm HIV Basic Science, Vaccines, and Cure Project Blog, March 23, 2016
  2. Gene therapy snips HIV out of infected cells and makes uninfected cells resistant– Gus Cairns, AIDSMap, March 30. 2016

Original source(s):

  1. Scientific journal article: Elimination of HIV-1 Genomes from Human T-lymphoid Cells by CRISPR/Cas9 Gene Editing – Scientific Reports, March 4, 2016
  2. Temple University Press Release: Scientists at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University Eliminate HIV-1 from Genome of Human T-Cells – March 21, 2016
  3. Excision BioTherapeutics Inc. Press Release: Use of CRISPR Cas9 Gene Editing Therapeutic Shown to Permanently Inactivate HIV-1 in Patient’s Blood for First Time – March 21, 2016

TAG’s commentary:
The story is about a gene-editing approach designed to try and eliminate HIV from infected cells that was already covered on this page two years ago (the challenges involved in trying to translate the approach into a therapy remain the same as described then).

The approach is still only being tested in laboratory experiments and it is not yet known if it can be translated into a therapy suitable for administering to people.

The renewed media attention was caused by the publication of a scientific paper in the journal Scientific Reports (see TAG’s blog post for details), which was promoted by press releases from the research institution, Temple University, and Excision BioTherapeutics, a company the lead researcher Kamel Khalili has founded to try and commercialize the approach (in partnership with Temple).

The scientific paper was published online on March 4, followed by the press releases on March 21, and received an initial round of media coverage that was reasonably accurate, although somewhat over-optimistic about the immediate prospects for the approach.

Then, on April 1, The Daily Telegraph published an article claiming that it might be possible to find out whether the approach can cure HIV infection within three years – this is outrageously false.

Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it is likely to be more than three years before even the first clinical trials are possible (and it is not known yet if human trials will be possible).

In an excellent article for POZ Magazine, Ben Ryan obtained a quote from Kamel Khalili in response to The Daily Telegraph’s coverage: “We have made no claim that our technology will cure HIV in three years.”

Unfortunately, as often happens with attention-grabbing headlines, many other media outlets around the world are now parroting The Daily Telegraph’s false claim that this research may lead to an HIV cure “within three years.”

Sarah Knapton, The Daily Telegraph’s Science Editor and author of the article, has so far refused requests to make appropriate corrections.

Unfortunately this is the second example of irresponsible, misleading coverage of HIV cure research by The Daily Telegraph. Such articles exploit people’s hopes for an HIV cure in order to generate web traffic and social media attention, a tactic that is reprehensible and unethical. In that prior case, however, The Daily Telegraph did at least eventually correct the errors when they were brought to their attention (see this POZ Magazine article by Ben Ryan and the updates at the end of this blog post). Hopefully this latest erroneous article will eventually be corrected as well.

Update April 6, 2016: As noted above, The Daily Telegraph has thankfullly now responded by editing the headline and first paragraph to remove the mistaken claim that the approach may cure HIV infection “within three years” or “a few years.”


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