Scientists working as part of a collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi have managed to engineer an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates.
The antibody is built to attack three different yet critical parts of the virus, which will make it harder for HIV to resist its effects.
Human trials begin in 2018, to see if it can prevent or even treat infection of HIV, the International Aids Society described the antibody as an “exciting breakthrough“.
The virus has a powerful ability to mutate and change its appearance, which is the reason our bodies struggle so much to fight HIV.
Due to the many varieties of HIV, or strains, in a single patient, the immune system finds itself fighting against a large number of strains of HIV.
The BBC, on super-antibodies:
But after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called “broadly neutralising antibodies” that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains.
Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralising antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place.
The study, published in the journal Science, combines three such antibodies into an even more powerful “tri-specific antibody”.
Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi, told the BBC:
“They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.”
90% of HIV strains will be targeted by the best naturally occurring antibodies.
“We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody.”
An experiment on monkeys, none of the 24 who were given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus, which is quite promising and scientists from Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will continue working on the project.