Heavily modified antibody attacks 99pc of HIV strains, preventing infection

22 Sep 2017

Image: BertrandBlay/Shutterstock

A major breakthrough has been achieved in HIV treatment with a new antibody that attacks nearly every known strain.

Much has been achieved in the area of HIV prevention since the beginning of the 21st century, but a new breakthrough could be about to take it to a whole new level.

According to the BBC, a joint collaboration between the pharma company Sanofi and the US National Institutes of Health has engineered an antibody shown to be capable of attacking 99pc of HIV strains.

In a similar fashion to influenza, the difficulty in taking on HIV is that the number of strains makes it incredibly difficult to develop a single treatment for it. But naturally occurring antibodies that can target 90pc of strains have developed in some patients over the years.

In a paper published in Science, the team of researchers revealed that they engineered this powerful new antibody using three of these natural antibodies to create a “tri-specific antibody”.

The 99pc success rate was found after the team tested the drug on 24 monkeys to study its effects in primates. In these tests, even after the virus was administered, none of the monkeys developed the infection.

Human trials in 2018

“They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered,” said Sanofi’s chief scientific officer and author of the report, Dr Gary Nabel.

“It was quite an impressive degree of protection.”

The hope is now for the antibody to undergo its first trials in humans some time in 2018 and to see if it shares the same benefits as seen in our primate relatives.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, president of the International Aids Society has welcomed the news and hopes it will prove invaluable in the years to come.

“This paper reports an exciting breakthrough,” she said. “These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date.”

“As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic