This year has witnessed one breakthrough discovery after the next when it comes to finding cures and treatments for lethal diseases. And while HIV is no longer a death sentence – and this is by no means a breakthrough discovery – yet a truly reliable treatment has yet to be found. In a recent study published in the journal Nature, American and German researchers tested a new preventive treatment on macaque monkeys. The results showed a delay in HIV infection of up to 6 months!
The researchers split the macaques into 4 groups, injecting each with a different anti-body. The results were an average delay of 12 to 14 weeks, and some even remained protected for as long as 23 weeks. However, the monkeys that were not injected with anti-bodies were infected in an average of 3 weeks. Now this is not a breakthrough discovery as anti-bodies have been previously tested out on monkeys for HIV prevention. But in the old studies, a single high-dose of the virus was good enough to break the protection and get the monkey infected. Furthermore, HIV preventive medications already exist. For instance, PrEP pills help reduce infection risk to over 90%! However, today there are 37 million people in the world infected with HIV, and in 2014 alone, around 2 million got newly infected. That is not due to the lack of efficiency of the PrEP pills, for example, but due to the fact that the pills needs to be taken daily; most people forget to take them or only take them before sex, and this reduces the drug’s efficiency.
For years now, scientists have been trying to find an HIV vaccine as this is the ideal solution. However, so far it has proven highly difficult if not impossible to produce such a vaccine. Moreover, anti-bodies seem to be a much better option, as instead of giving the body the disease itself, scientists give it the anti-bodies it needs to fight off HIV, which saves it time, energy, and effort to produce them itself. Furthermore, the results of the monkey trials are positive, as the anti-bodies would be even more effective on humans. However, some scientists have wondered why the researchers didn’t use a cocktail of anti-bodies which would’ve made the treatment more effective. After all, exposing the virus to one anti-body makes it quite easy for it to grow resistant, which it does and quickly. But injecting the body with a cocktail would decrease the chance of immunization-resistant viruses. Still, the researchers say they wanted to figure out how effective each of the anti-bodies was individually, before attempting to mix them up for better results.
The first clinical trials of the anti-body VRC01 will start soon in Peru, Brazil, and the US. The trials will enroll 2,700 people with high-risk of being infected to test how well the anti-body protects them from infection. Later on this spring, the trials will also start in different African countries.