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Recent clinical trials involving primates have had astonishing success in destroying 99% of active HIV strains and preventing further infection.
The successful clinical trials have been hailed as a potentially groundbreaking moment in humanity’s decade’s long struggle with HIV and AIDs.
New HIV treatment kills 99% of viral strains
The project, which involved scientists from the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, involved researchers engineering a specifically designed antibody which attacks three critical components of virus simultaneously, making it impossible for the virus to resist the onslaught.
This successful trial comes on the back of decades of desperately difficult attempts by scientists to destroy the HIV. The human body finds it incredibly difficult to fight against HIV because the virus is prone to incredibly swift and radical mutation. The variety of strains of HIV viruses within a single person is comparable to the multiple strains of influenza which can be found during a worldwide influenza season. This means that the immune system finds itself continually overwhelmed by having to adapt to the rapid mutation of the various strains of the virus in the body. Without treatment, the immune systems’ of almost all patients with the HIV will fail in their battle to neutralize the deadly illness. However, medical researchers have discovered that a small number of patients have naturally developed something called ‘broadly neutralizing antibodies’ that attack something fundamental in the HIV and can kill huge swathes of strains in a fairly short space of time.
This discovery has led researchers to attempt to engineer broadly neutralizing antibodies which could eventually come to be used as a treatment of the virus or to prevent infection altogether in the form of a vaccine. According to Dr. Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi who also worked on the study, these newly engineered antibodies are “more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.” While the most effective naturally occurring antibodies can destroy 90% of HIV strains, these synthetic antibodies can destroy 99% of strains at a very low concentration, Dr. Nabel has said.
The study involved twenty-four monkeys who were all given the tri-specific antibody and later deliberately exposed to the HIV. The scientists working on the study found that none of the monkeys developed the disease after they were infected with it.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this intriguing approach could be the best way to tackle the problem of HIV. “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, ” he said.
The scientists working on the project have announced that clinical trials of the antibody involving human beings will commence next year, an announcement which has been met with considerable enthusiasm by those involved in the field. Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, the president of the International Aids Society, has said that this is an incredibly exciting breakthrough and as she works as a doctor in Africa, where HIV is particularly prevalent, she believes that is an urgency to conduct clinical trials on humans as soon as possible.