Researchers from Rockefeller University are collaborating with the University of Cologne to develop a new kind of treatment for HIV. They are working on creating an antibody-based drug (also known as a “broadly neutralizing antibody”) that shows hope to more successful treatment of the disease over the long term. Upon the very first dose of the drug, patients’ immune systems show signs of increased strength against the virus.
The antiretroviral therapy (also known as ART) is made up of a combination of drugs that slows the spread of HIV cells throughout the body. In the past, HIV meant for a very short life expectancy but new treatments such as this one make the virus more of a chronic condition that can be effectively treated for decades, rather than years. The main concern with the therapy as of yet are its side effects, which include kidney problems, a decrease in bone density and complications with the gastrointestinal tract. Continuous treatment is a must, as tests show that even missing a dose here and there can lead to a speedy progression of the HIV virus. The two Universities are working on developing a new treatment plan that can treat patients over the long term.
Till Schoofs, one of the first authors of the study and member of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology says the study shows strong evidence that upon receiving their first dose of the antibodies; patients’ immune systems create better antibodies to fight against the virus. The treatment has been shown to greatly decrease the amount of virus located within the blood of the patient. He says more monitoring is in order to see how the immune system adapts with continued exposure to the new therapy.
The broadly neutralizing antibody molecule that was used during the research is called 3BNC117. This molecule boasts the ability to be able to fight a number of different strains of HIV, with an 80% neutralization rate thus far. Scientists hope that administering this antibody to patients will help their bodies have a better chance at fighting HIV.
During clinical trials, 15 patients with high levels of HIV in their blood along with 12 patients who were being treated by antiretroviral therapy were given one dose of 3BNC117. The patients were monitored for 6 months. The bodies of 14 of the first group were creating new antibodies that were able to subdue many HIV strains. According to Schoofs, it generally takes a few years for the body to begin to fight back in such a way. 3BNC117 is currently being used in combination with a range of different antibodies that are known to target HIV in an attempt to develop an even stronger treatment.
Researchers also did a companion study that compared the benefits between antiretroviral therapy and the new 3BNC117. According to Ching-Lan Lu, a first author and student of Dr. Nussenzweig’s lab, observations of mice displayed evidence that 3BNC117 actually sped up the removal of cells infected by HIV, shortening the amount of time the damaged cells remain within the body. Their next goal is to study the effectiveness of antibody drugs for patients who are already receiving ART. They hope the treatment could help to change or limit the number of HIV reservoirs where the virus is able to continue to thrive even in the presence of ART.
Phase 1 findings from the latest clinical trial were published in the May 5th edition of Science journal, which goes into detail on just how the antibody works within the body.