30 September 2020 – The Desmond Tutu Health foundation bids a sad farewell to Timothy Ray Brown today, who was the first person to be cured of HIV. Brown was declared ‘cured’ in 2008 following a complicated stem cell transplant for lymphoma. He became known as the “Berlin Patient” based on the city in which he received the transplant, and remained HIV-free until his passing.
At the time, Brown was living with both HIV and acute myeloid leukemia, and his doctors purposefully chose a donor that was naturally resistant to HIV infection due to a mutation in the CCR5 gene, in the hopes that it would produce the same effect in Brown. A stem cell transplant is a dangerous procedure with a long recovery period and is not prescribed lightly. Even when the transplant is complete, there is a chance that the body will reject the new cells. Brown’s procedure went well and incredibly, these new cells gave him resistance to HIV.
Adam Castillejo, now known as the “London Patient”, became the second man cured of HIV through a bone marrow transplant a full decade after Brown; and earlier this year Loreen Willenberg was reported as being the first possible case of an HIV cure without the risky transplant. Willenberg has been living with HIV since 1992 and despite not taking ART’s, was found to have no traces of intact HIV in her body. Researchers believe that she may be an “extreme elite controller”, where only fragments of HIV remain and are unable to replicate.
The DTHF was lucky enough to host Brown in 2017 when he attended the “Is an HIV Cure Possible?” symposium in Cape Town to add to the discussion on the status of an HIV cure. He came out to a community site in Philippi Village and he and his husband, Tim enthusiastically engaged with community advocates and answered a range of questions posed by community. Timothy was warm, compassionate, and inspirational. “ I was very sad to hear of Timothy’s cancer relapse recently and know that he bravely bore the illness right until the end. He was a courageous advocate for better HIV care and for a cure and was inspirational to us all,” said DTHF COO Prof. Linda-Gail Bekker.
The news of Timothy’s passing is a sad occasion for all of us. On behalf of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, we would like to send our condolences to Tim and their loved ones during this difficult time. Since his ground-breaking procedure and ongoing advocacy, he became a symbol of hope for those in the HIV world that a cure is possible.