The National AIDS Trust says latest research out of France that shows 14 patients when treated early for HIV were able to stay off of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) without relapsing “is further evidence that we are getting closer to a cure for HIV.”

It once again illustrates the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.

The group of patients in Paris, known as the Visconti cohort, all started treatment within 10 weeks of being infected with HIV.

They stuck to a course of ARVs for three years, on average, but then stopped.

Normally the virus rebounds once medication is ended.

However, this has not happened in the Visconti patients.

Lead researcher Asier Saez-Cirion, from the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told the AFP news agency: “These individuals reflect what a functional cure may represent because they have been actually controlling the infection for many years now.

“I think this is proof of concept that this may be achieved in individuals. And that this happened thanks to early treatment onset.”

He said 5-15% of patients may be functionally cured, meaning they no longer needed drugs, by attacking the virus soon after infection.

“They still have HIV, it is not eradication of HIV, it is a kind of remission of the infection.”

It follows reports of a baby girl being effectively cured after very early treatment in the US.

Scientists said that there were intriguing parallels between the two studies, but stressed that the phenomenon was rare and warned that most people with HIV would develop full-blown AIDS if they stopped taking medication.

NAT Chief Executive Deborah Jack said: “These are exciting times and today’s study is further evidence that we are getting closer to a cure for HIV. What is telling in both the functional cure in the USA and in latest study in France is that early treatment was key to their success.

She added: “This just underlines the importance of people being testing and diagnosed early. Currently half of people living with HIV in the UK are diagnosed late – indicating that they are likely to have been infected for five years. For British people to benefit from these new medical advances it is crucial we tackle late HIV diagnoses.”

Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be disproportionately affected by the spread of HIV; accounting for almost half of all new cases in the UK. It reached an all-time high in 2011 with 3,010 cases reported in the group.