Since the 1980s, progress toward the eradication of AIDS has been erratic and sometimes controversial. People suffering from it have faced epidemiological setbacks, prohibitive costs, and enormous social stigmas. Nevertheless, the progress has been real. According to UNAIDS, a United Nations agency dedicated to the disease, AIDS deaths have fallen by half, from their previous peak in 2005 to around 1 million in 2016.
New Antibody Attacks Almost All HIV Strains
Earlier this month, researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi announced the development of a newly created weapon in the fight against the virus. Their solution is a three-pronged antibody that effectively neutralizes most forms of HIV. Natural antibodies will target up to 90 percent of HIV strains. In contrast, this newly created molecule attacks 99 percent of strains even at low concentrations.
HIV is a challenge to fight as it can evade most conventional treatments by mutating its form and adapting new resistances. The human body is eventually overwhelmed by the sheer number of different HIV strains. But in a small number of patients, the immune system has developed a very effective defense called broadly neutralizing antibodies.
These antibodies bind to specific sites on the surface of the HIV virus known as “spikes” to neutralize it. Broadly neutralizing antibodies are so effective because most strains of HIV viruses contain similar types of spikes. They cannot adapt easily to these antibodies.
In the new study, scientists combined three of these neutralizing antibodies together to create an even more efficient treatment called a tri-specific antibody. This is supposed to overwhelm the HIV’s defenses by binding to three specific sites on the surface of the pathogen.
Researchers conducted an experiment on 24 monkeys that had been infected with a simian-specific strain of HIV. Through numerous experimentation and trials, the best combination yielded a success rate of 99 percent.
“Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defenses of the virus,” according to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH.
The researchers are looking to start human trials sometime in late 2018. If they are successful, the tri-specific antibody could become a useful prototype not only for HIV treatment but also for other infectious diseases. For example, it might work for autoimmune diseases or cancers.
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