After watching And The Band Played On, I wanted to know if any new discoveries were being made in the global effort against AIDs. It seems like so many scientists have been focusing their attention on an effective HIV vaccine, rather unsuccessfully. There is new hope in a different approach, two new antibodies that could target a region of the virus that could be the Achilles heel.
Here is an important excerpt from the Reuters article, where bNAbs stands for “broadly neutralizing antibodies”:
The two newly discovered bNAbs, called PG9 and PG16, are the first to have been identified in more than a decade and are the first to have been isolated from donors in developing countries, where the majority of new HIV infections occur. Moreover, previously identified bNAbs against HIV have functioned by binding to places on HIV that have proven difficult to exploit by means of vaccine design. "These new antibodies, which are more potent than other antibodies described to date while maintaining great breadth, attach to a novel, and potentially more accessible site on HIV to facilitate vaccine design," said Dennis Burton, professor of immunology and microbial science and scientific director of the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.
One of the notable aspects of this discovery was the fact that it was made after taking 1,800 blood samples from relatively newly infected patients (less than 3 years) and found these antibodies from an African patient who was particularly effective at preventing infection. I didn’t know there were so many strains of HIV (scientists used 162 strains in this study) and that people’s antibodies are most effective during the first three years after infection. Only four bNAbs had been discovered before, and none had yielded promising vaccines. The hope is that these binding spike sites will continue to be vulnerable to PG9 and PG16 while scientists can create immunogens and a potential vaccine tailored to these sites.