How close are we to a cure for HIV?

There have been several reports in recent months of breakthroughs in HIV research.

At the beginning of October, UK scientists announced promising results from the trial of a new drug that re-activated dormant HIV cells in the body and boosted the immune system’s ability to destroy them.

From 50 patients being studied, one appeared to have no traces of the virus in his blood. However, he’d only been virus-free for a few weeks. We will have to wait until 2018 for the full results of the study to be announced.

At the beginning of November, scientists at the Hebrew University in Israel announced similar success with another drug that re-awakened dormant HIV in the body and exposed it to destruction.

Unlike the British trial, this study was still at the stage of observing results in test tubes of blood, with human testing still to be undertaken.

Earlier this month, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the US said it had discovered a potent new antibody, N6, that was capable of neutralizing 98% of known-strains as HIV.

It’s not the first time an antibody has been found against HIV, but it’s believed to be the most broad and powerful.

The Director of NIAID is Dr Anthony Fauci, spoke to GSN about the discovery of N6, and what its implications could be.

‘N6 is a very impressive antibody. There are three ways in which it could be beneficial. Firstly, it could be used as one of several antibodies that could be passively transferred to people who are already infected, to see if we could intermittently suppress the virus and ultimately discontinue the anti-retroviral drugs.’

In effect, this means giving someone who is HIV positive a shot of treatment once every few months instead of a daily pill.

‘Secondly, antibodies of this type are already in clinical trials as prevention modalities. Namely to transfer, every several months, into an individual who is not infected, to see if we can prevent the acquisition of infection.

‘And then finally, it could – and I underline could – be used to help guide us in the development of a vaccine.’

On this latest point, NIAID is already involved with a large-scale vaccine study in South Africa and other countries hard hit by HIV.

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