Do We Finally Have a Real HIV Vaccine?

Scientists at the United States National Institutes of Health have been working with the pharmaceutical company Sanofi to engineer a three-pronged antibody that has been shown to protect monkeys from two strains of Human Immunodeficiency Virus—more commonly known as HIV—than any other equivalent, naturally-occurring antibodies.

HIV, of course, is the causal agent of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, which one develops at some point after contracting the virus. As such, the theory has always been that if we can somehow reduce risk of HIV contraction, then we can reduce AIDS-related deaths. One of the big obstacles, though, has always been the complex genetic diversity of HIV; at least, in developing a single treatment that can work for the largest percentage of patients.

However, the team has managed to engineer a three-pronged antibody with specificity for three independent HIV antigens which has been shown to offer better protection for infection in monkeys tested with the vaccine.

Published in the journal Science, this week, study author Dr. Gary Nabel comments, “They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered.”

As far as we know for now, the best “naturally-occurring” antibodies will target about 90 percent of HIV strains. With this new treatment, though, the Sanofi chief scientific officer assures, “We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody.”

With such promising results, human clinical trials will begin next year.

And on that note, International Aids Society president, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, comments, “This paper reports an exciting breakthrough. These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date.”

She goes on to say, “It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018. As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible.”

At the end of the day, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases president, Dr Anthony S. Fauci, notes, “Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defences 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.”


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