Born: March 11, 1966;

Died: September 29, 2020

TIMOTHY Ray Brown, who has died aged 54, made history as the first person known to be cured of HIV and became a symbol of hope for people living with the disease.

Dubbed “the Berlin patient,” he had a transplant from a donor with a rare, natural resistance to AIDS and for years afterwards it appeared to have cured Brown. At the end of his life he was still showing no signs of HIV.

Brown was first diagnosed with the condition while working in Berlin as a translator and was then later diagnosed with leukaemia. Transplants were known to be an effective treatment for the blood cancer, but Gero Huetter, the doctor who led Brown’s treatment, suggested trying to cure the HIV as well by using a donor with the HIV-resistant gene mutation.

Brown’s first transplant, which was carried out in 2007, was only partly successful. His HIV seemed to be gone but the leukaemia was not, but when he had a second transplant from the same donor in 2008, that one seemed to work. For years it appeared that both his leukaemia and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, had been eliminated.

For Brown, it was a huge relief – when he was diagnosed with HIV, he was told he might only live for two years at most – but the treatment had huge significance for the wider gay community, too: it suggested that it was possible, under special circumstances, to rid a patient of HIV, something that many scientists had doubted could be done.

Brown had been born an only child in Seattle, where he was raised by his mother Sharon, who worked in the local sheriff’s department. Openly gay at high school, the young Timothy moved to Barcelona when he was in his 20s and then to Berlin, where he studied German.

He tested positive for HIV in 1995 but he said he was determined to carry on life in as normal a way as possible. He took the new antiretroviral drugs that were being used to treat HIV patients, continued his studies at university and then worked as a translator.

However, by 2006, he was suffering from some worrying symptoms.

On his return from a wedding in the States, he found that he was exhausted by ordinary activities such as cycling to work, and eventually the cause was determined: he had acute myeloid leukaemia.

It was at this point that Dr Huetter suggested that he be given a bone-marrow transplant using cells from a donor with the genetic mutation CCR5 delta 32, which had proved resistant to HIV.

It meant destroying Brown’s diseased immune system with chemotherapy and radiation, then transplanting the donor’s cells in the hope they would develop into a new immune system.

Brown underwent the procedure in 2007 and a second transplant the following year after the cancer returned and it was physically gruelling. However, every time he was tested for HIV, the test came back negative.

Speaking in 2012, he described the effect the treatment had on his life.

“I quit taking my medication on the day that I got the transplant, after three months there was no HIV any more in my body,” he said. “I was excited about it, but I still kind of feared it might come back, but it didn’t.”

Brown was originally known publicly only as “the Berlin Patient” but three years after his treatment he decided to reveal his identity.

“At some point, I decided I didn’t want to be the only person in the world cured of HIV,” he said. “I wanted there to be more. And the way to do that was to show the world who I am and be an advocate for HIV.”

He eventually moved back to the United States and settled in Palm Springs, where he worked as a volunteer for an Aids project.

In 2012, he established his own charity, the Timothy Ray Brown Foundation, which aimed to promote the search for a cure for HIV/Aids.

Four years later, a second man, called “the London patient”, was also believed to have been cured by a transplant similar to Brown’s. His identity was revealed last year as Adam Castillejo.

Some doctors remain concerned that the HIV virus might still lurk in some cells after the treatment that Brown and Castillejo received, and Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Australia, has said that although the cases of Timothy and Adam are not a viable large-scale strategy for a cure, they do represent a critical moment in the search for an HIV cure”.

Brown himself also said that, even though he revealed earlier this year that he was terminally ill from a recurrence of his cancer, he was still pleased he had the treatment.

It opened up doors that weren’t there before, he said, and inspired scientists to work harder to find a cure, which many had begun to think was not possible.

“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 Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society.

Among those paying tribute via Twitter was the charity, Blood Cancer UK, which wrote: “His legacy lives on, as his story inspires scientists, patients & the world that a cure for HIV could one day be found”.

Timothy Ray Brown is survived by his partner, Tim Hoeffgen.