Who was Timothy Brown? First person cured of HIV dies of cancer at 54, partner calls him ‘sweetest person’
For the past six months, Brown was living with a recurrence of the leukemia that had entered his spine and brain
Timothy Ray Brown, the first person known to have been cured of HIV, has died in California after relapsing with cancer. Known as the “Berlin Patient”, 54-year-old Brown was cured of HIV in 2008 after undergoing a complex stem cell transplant for a type of blood cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia (AML). For the past six months, he was living with a recurrence of the leukemia that had entered his spine and brain, according to the International Aids Society (IAS).
“It is with great sadness that I announce that Timothy passed away at 3.10 pm this afternoon surrounded by myself and friends, after a 5 month battle with leukemia. Timothy was born on March 11, 1966, and grew up in Seattle as an only child with his mom Sharon. He enjoyed summers with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Idaho,” his partner Tim Hoeffgen said in a Facebook post on Wednesday, September 30.
Brown lived in Berlin from 1993 to 2010 with his former partner Michael Dastner while he worked in a cafe, and he was a German-English translator, Hoeffgen said in the post. He was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and then in 2007, he was diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Brown became known as the “Berlin Patient” after his HIV was cleared by treatment there. “In 2010, Tim moved back to the US and became public about his status as the Berlin Patient and was on the cover of Poz magazine in June 2011. Tim committed his life’s work to telling his story about his HIV cure and became an ambassador of hope. Tim also gave numerous blood and tissue samples to researchers after his cure...Tim formed lasting friendships with HIV researchers, doctors, and activists...I am truly blessed that we shared a life together but I’m heartbroken that my hero is now gone. Tim was truly the sweetest person in the world,” wrote Hoeffgen.
The bone marrow transplant Brown received in Berlin in 2007 came from a donor who 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. He stopped antiretroviral therapy (ART) very soon after the transplant and he remained free of any detectable virus. In other words, he was cured.
“It is with a profoundly heavy heart that IAS today mourns the passing of Brown. On behalf of all its members and the governing council, the IAS sends its 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,” said Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the IAS and professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Malaya, in a statement on September 30.
HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Globally, 67% of the 38 million people living with HIV in 2019 were receiving ART. According to IAS, Brown’s experience suggested that HIV might one day be curable, and this fuelled a range of efforts by researchers and institutions focusing on HIV cure research. “A full decade after Timothy Brown’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,” said IAS.
Professor Sharon Lewin, the president-elect of the IAS and director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, emphasizes that while cases of Brown and Castillejo are not a viable largescale strategy for a cure, they represent a critical moment in the search for an HIV cure. “Timothy 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 honor his legacy with a safe, cost-effective, and widely accessible strategy to achieve HIV remission and cure using gene editing or techniques that boost immune control,” emphasized Lewin.