While the world this past week was excited by news that an HIV cure might be around the corner following reports that Scientists from US National Institutes of Health have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of HIV strains and can prevent infection in primates, a high ranking official at the Botswana Harvard Partnership has warned against early jubilations. “We do not want to scream Eureka and at the end of the day tests on humans do not bring any positives,” said Dr Simane Gaseitsiwe in an interview with The Patriot on Sunday. Dr Gaseitsiwe, who is currently Botswana Harvard Partnership Lab Director, warned that although the news may be exciting it usually takes time and rigorous research to move from testing on animals and conducting the same trials on human beings and getting the same positive results. “We have been around long enough in HIV research to know and attest that there have been a lot of false positives before which got peoples hopes up but ended up not living up to expectations,” he said. He, however, said people should wait and hope that something positive comes out of the human trials that are expected to be conducted sometimes in 2018. Dr Gaseitsiwe said there is a possibility that even if the human trials succeed in the west the opposite may be the case in Africa including Botswana because the type of HIV differs according to geographical location.
The study published in the journal of Science states that the antibody is built to attack three critical parts of the virus – making it harder for HIV to resist its effects and the work is collaboration between the US National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. The “three-in-one” antibody protected monkeys from infection with two strains of SHIV. It also stopped a greater number of HIV strains from infecting cells in the laboratory more potently than natural, single antibodies. The antibody binds to three different critical sites on HIV. The three HIV-binding segments of the antibody are based on three individual HIV antibodies, each of which powerfully neutralise many strains of the virus. The antibody was tested in an experiment involving monkeys and two strains of SHIV. One SHIV strain is sensitive to neutralisation by VRC01 and the trispecific antibody, but resistant to neutralisation by PGDM1400. The other SHIV strain is sensitive to neutralisation by PGDM1400 and the trispecific antibody, but resistant to neutralisation by VRC01. Scientists from the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston provided these SHIV strains. The researchers are now planning to conduct early-phase clinical trials of the ‘trispecific’ antibody in healthy people and in people living with HIV in the hope that it could eventually be used for long-acting HIV prevention and treatment. By binding to three different sites on the virus, the new antibody should be harder for HIV to dodge than natural, single antibodies.