Scientists have engineered an antibody that attacks 99% of known HIV strains and has successfully prevented the infection in primates.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health and Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi worked together on the antibody, which combines three powerful antibodies that had developed in a small number of patients after years of infection.
Each of the natural antibodies attacks critical parts of the virus and when combined together are much harder for HIV to dodge than the individual antibodies, researchers said.
“They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that’s been discovered,” Sanofi chief scientific officer Dr. Gary Nabel told the BBC.
“We’re getting 99% coverage, and getting coverage at very low concentrations of the antibody.”
Researchers gave 24 monkeys the antibody, and reported that none of them developed an infection when exposed to a monkey form of HIV.
The findings were published in the journal Science this month and researchers expect to begin human trials to test the antibody in 2018.
The International AIDS Society’s president, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, said the research reports “an exciting breakthrough”.
“These super-engineered antibodies seem to go beyond the natural and could have more applications than we have imagined to date,” she said.
“It’s early days yet, and as a scientist I look forward to seeing the first trials get off the ground in 2018.”