National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Sanofi researchers have successfully developed an antibody that has the potential to destroy 99% of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) raising hope for the 36.7 million HIV/AIDS sufferers across the world.
The experimental three-in-one antibody, tested 24 monkeys injected with HIV, has shown immense promise in that none of the primates developed the virus after being administered with the new antibody.
It basically works by attacking three aspects of the dreaded virus. It is referred to as a ‘broadly neutralizing antibody’ because of its ability to attack different strains of HIV regardless of the shape the virus adapts.
The “trispecific” antibody provided immunity to the monkeys not only against two strains of SHIV – a form of monkey HIV – but also protected cells from a larger number of HIV strains in laboratory tests. It was observed that the engineered antibody was more potent in protecting cells as compared to natural, single antibodies.
Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, under the ambit of NIH, said that “combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defenses of the virus in the effort to achieve effective antibody-based treatment and prevention.”
“The concept of having a single antibody that binds to three unique sites on HIV is certainly an intriguing approach for investigators to pursue,” he added.
Speaking to BBC, Dr. Gary Nabel, Chief Scientific Officer at the Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi and co-author of the research report, said that the results were “impressive.”
“They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered,” he said.
“We’re getting 99 percent coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody,” he further claimed.
The NIH-Sanofi study report has been published in the journal “Science” with contributions to the research from scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, and The Scripps Research Institute.
“This paper reports an exciting breakthrough,” said Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society. “These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date.”
While the results of the study have been more than promising, it remains to be seen how humans respond to the newly engineered antibody. Early-phase clinical trials of the promising antibody on healthy people, as well as those infected with HIV, are expected to start sometime next year. Researchers expect the trispecific characteristic of the antibody, which allows it to bind to three different sites of HIV, to be more effective than the natural, single types.
Other studies in the treatment and prevention of HIV in the recent past have also shown promising results. In October last year, the NHS together with immunologists at UK universities achieved “remarkable” results with a new line of HIV experiment on an infected patient. After initial treatment, no symptoms of the virus were observed in the patient.
Again, in May this year, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) demonstrated the ability to remove HIV DNA from genomes of mice – using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, the short form of “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.”