Scientists have developed a new kind of antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and has proven to prevent infection in primates.
The antibody attacks three critical parts of the virus so that it is difficult for HIV to resist the effects, the BBC reports. It was engineered in collaboration among the US National Institutes of Health, researchers at Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and pharmaceutical company Sanofi.
The International AIDS Society called the project an “exciting breakthrough.” Human trials are slated for 2018, to determine if the antibody can prevent or treat HIV infections. The virus is difficult for the human body to combat because of its astounding capacity to mutate and change its form. These strains in a single patient can be compared to those of influenza during flu season, with the body trying to fend off multiple strains of HIV.
After years of living with HIV, a small number of patients have been found to develop “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” which are powerful biological weapons that attack something basic to the virus, killing large swathes of HIV strains.
Researchers have been working on developing these antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or even prevent the virus from infecting people. This breakthrough combines three of these antibodies into a more powerful “tri-specific antibody.”
Dr. Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the study authors, said,
They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.
Naturally-occurring antibodies are able to target 90% of HIV strains. This does more. Nabel said, “We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody.”
The team carried out experiments on 24 monkeys that had the tri-specific antibody. None of the animals developed an infection when they were injected with the virus.
Nabel said, “It was quite an impressive degree of protection.”
The study was published in the journal Science.