Metro Weekly

New antibody breakthrough could lead to HIV vaccine

With 99% efficacy in monkeys, researchers will attempt human trials in 2018

HIV virus, Credit: C. Goldsmith Content Providers: CDC/ C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus

A new lab-developed antibody could lead to a vaccination against HIV, after successful trials in monkeys.

Created in a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, the three-pronged antibody effectively protected monkeys against SHIV, a simian form of HIV.

By binding itself to three different sites on HIV, the engineered antibody was better able to protect monkeys against two strains of SHIV than natural antibodies.

The natural antibodies alone “powerfully” neutralize the virus, according to the NIH. When combined into one antibody, they become even more effective.

“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,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “The concept of having a single antibody that binds to three unique sites on HIV is certainly an intriguing approach for investigators to pursue.”

The “three-in-one” antibody, with each colored segment binding to a specific part of the HIV virus, Photo: Sanofi

In a test of 24 monkeys, eight that received the engineered antibody all resisted infection with SHIV.

Given the efficacy of the antibody, currently estimated at 99%, Sanofi is manufacturing a human version that will be used to test its safety and efficacy in humans in 2018.

A separate clinical trial is being discussed that would see an NIAID funded group test the antibody in people living with HIV.

“The partnership between NIAID and Sanofi has been invaluable and allows us to move this trispecific antibody from the lab and preclinical testing into the clinic,” Dr. Mascola said.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, president of the International AIDS Society, told BBC News that the study was “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 said. “It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.