Scientists have confirmed that they have engineered an antibody that they say has the ability to attack 99% of HIV strains. The antibody can help prevent any infection in primates. It’s designed to attack three crucial parts of the HIV virus. This makes it very difficult for the HIV virus to resist the effects that the antibody has. This major leap in the fight against HIV and AIDS has been a collaborative effort between the pharmaceutical company Sanofi and the US National Institutes of Health.
The breakthrough has been termed as exciting by the International AIDS Society and while it’s still in its early stages, once human trials begin next year it will be interesting to see how the antibody will fight HIV strains.
So, why is this a big step? First of all, it’s important to note that one of the reasons why the human body finds it very hard to fight the HIV virus is because of its mutating nature. The virus can change its appearance. This mutation creates an insurmountable number of different HIV strains in the body that the human immune system cannot handle.
However, after living with the virus for many years, some patients develop super antibodies. The antibodies are relatively strong in fighting off some strains of the virus. These are called broadly neutralizing antibodies.
For the last few years, researchers have tried to leverage on these antibodies to treat the HIV virus. This time around though, they have found three of the most powerful broadly neutralizing antibodies and combined them.
According to Dr. Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, the combination of these three antibodies is more potent and will be able to target at least 90% of the HIV strains.
Experiments on 24 monkeys have shown that not even one of them developed an infection after they were given the antibodies and injected the virus. Dr. Nabel noted that this was quite an impressive level of protection. The monkeys were injected with the HIV virus after the antibodies were introduced into their system.
The only thing that’s left now is to start trials on humans next year. The International AIDS Society led by Prof Linda-Gail Bekker said that this was an exciting breakthrough and that the application of the super antibodies could go beyond what they had imagined before. Although it’s still early, there seem to be some urgency for human trials to begin and see whether the same effects will be replicated.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also weighed on this breakthrough. Director of the institute Dr. Anthony Fauci noted that the idea of using antibodies that bind to a distinctive site on the HIV virus was an intriguing approach and it could pave the way for extensive use of antibody-based treatments in defeating the HIV virus and preventing new infections. Many people are now waiting for human trials but there’s no doubt this is a huge breakthrough in the fight against HIV and AIDS.