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Antibody therapy shows promise in suppressing HIV

Published 08/04/2015

A street mural calls for the urgent need to stop HIV and Aids
A street mural calls for the urgent need to stop HIV and Aids
A child holds condoms ripped off an banner reading SIDA (AIDS) during an HIV AIDS awareness event staged by the Red Cross in Bucharest, Romani

An experimental immunotherapy could help to prevent, treat or even cure HIV, research has shown.

Scientists used a potent antibody to tip the balance in the arms race between the virus and the body's immune system.

The antibody, called 3BNC117, belongs to a new generation with a wide range of effectiveness.

"What's special about these antibodies is that they have activity against over 80% of HIV strains and they are extremely potent," said researcher Dr Marina Caskey, from Rockefeller University in the US.

Broadly neutralising antibodies are produced naturally in around 10% to 30% of people with HIV, but only after several years of infection.

By that time, the virus in their bodies has typically evolved to escape even these powerful immune system agents.

In the new study, reported in the journal Nature, eight patients infected with HIV were given a single dose of the antibody and monitored for 56 days.

At the highest dose level, all eight showed up to 300-fold decreases in the amount of virus measured in their blood. In most cases the lowest viral load was recorded just one week after treatment.

The antibody will probably have to be used in combination with other antibodies or drugs to keep infections under control, the scientists believe.

"One antibody alone, like one drug alone, will not be sufficient to suppress viral load for a long time because resistance will arise," said Dr Caskey.

The study also raises hope for an HIV vaccine. If an uninfected person's immune system can be induced to generate antibodies such as 3BNC117 it might prevent the virus becoming established, say the researchers.

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