GLOBAL: New-found weakness in HI virus boosts vaccine hopes
AIDS vaccine research has suffered several setbacks
Nairobi, 4 September 2009 (IRIN) - The search for an AIDS vaccine has taken a step forward with the discovery of two powerful new antibodies that can cripple the HI virus.
Researchers led by the International AIDS Vaccine Institute (IAVI) said the two new antibodies revealed what might be an "Achilles heel" of the virus; they will now try to exploit this weakness.
"The findings … [published in the Science Journal this week] are an exciting advance toward the goal of an effective AIDS vaccine because now we've got a new, potentially better target … for vaccine design," said Wayne Koff, senior vice president of research and development at IAVI, in a statement. "And, having identified this one, we're set up to find more, which should further accelerate global efforts in AIDS vaccine development."
The two newly discovered antibodies are produced by a minority of HIV-infected individuals and are described as “broadly neutralizing” because they can neutralize a high percentage of the many types of HIV in circulation worldwide.
These antibodies are widely believed to offer the best hope for developing an AIDS vaccine that would teach the body to produce antibodies before exposure to the virus. Before this discovery, only four antibodies to HIV had been found that were widely agreed to be broadly neutralizing.
The discovery by scientists from IAVI, the Scripps Research Institute, and biotechnology companies Theraclone Sciences and Monogram Biosciences, gives vaccine research a much needed shot in the arm after a series of setbacks
In the past two years at least two major vaccine trials have been unsuccessful, leading some to call for public funding of AIDS vaccine research to be ended or diverted to existing HIV treatment and prevention efforts.
"The story of the discovery of these two new antibodies demonstrates the challenges of AIDS vaccine research, but also the power of the collaboration that formed to produce this advance,” said Seth Berkley, president of IAVI.
"By working in this manner, I am confident we will continue to move toward solving the AIDS vaccine challenge, one of the greatest scientific and public health challenges of our time."