Medical

Scientists develop anti-HIV superweapon that targets 99% of mutations

Scientists develop anti-HIV superweapon that targets 99% of mutations

Our bodies struggle to fight HIV because of the virus' incredible ability to mutate and change its appearance.

Now, in a breakthrough paper, researchers from the U.S. have engineered a trispecific antibody against HIV that attacks a sweeping 99% of viral strains in monkeys.

HIV is so hard for the human immune system to combat because it's able to mutate into multiple different strains but scientists have found that some patients infected with the virus start building powerful "neutralizing antibodies" that can launch broad attacks on multiple strains. The most successful formula combines unique structures of the broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies, VRC01, PGDM1400 and 10E8v4.

These proteins are capable of killing off numerous HIV strains at once, so for this joint study between NIH and Sanofi, researchers set out to find a way to harness this natural defense. 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. So far, tests have shown that they are able to fight up 90 percent of HIV strains, which while good, is not flawless.

The trispecific antibody was tested in an experiment involving monkeys and 2 strains of SHIV.

Researchers gave 24 monkeys the tri-specific antibody before infecting them with the virus, and reported that none of them developed an infection. A three-pronged antibody has now been engineered that has specificity for three independent HIV antigens. None of them developed an infection.




Dr Nabel said: "It was quite an impressive degree of protection". Scientists at NIAID and the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Consortium of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, previously isolated these individual antibodies from people living with HIV.

Human trials are scheduled to begin in 2018 with a view to developing a highly effective AIDS vaccine, though the work could also be used in treatments for other diseases.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society, told the BBC: "This paper reports an exciting breakthrough".

"We're getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody,"said Dr Gary Nabel, one of the authors of the report".

"As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible", she added.


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