In what would be described as a remarkable breakthrough, Scientists from National Institutes of Health (NIH), Maryland, U.S., have identified an antibody called ‘N6’ which can be used in preventing and treating the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus that leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The scientists from NIH – the largest biomedical research agency in the world – scrutinized the evolution of N6 over time to understand how exactly it managed to develop the ability to potently neutralize the majority of HIV strains.
The research, which was led by Mark Connors, M.D of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was able to discover the powerful antibody that is highly effective in both binding to the surface of the HIV virus and neutralizing it.
“Identifying broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV has been difficult because the virus rapidly changes its surface proteins to evade recognition by the immune system,” a press release posted on the agency’s official website explains.
The antibody was initially discovered in an HIV-positive person and has since proven to potentially neutralize 98 percent of HIV isolates, “including 16 of 20 strains resistant to other antibodies of the same class,” according to the press release.
“The remarkable breadth and potency of this antibody…make it an attractive candidate for further development to potentially treat or prevent HIV infection,” researchers with NIAID said.
Researchers have had previous success with other antibodies, but N6 appears to be more effective.
For instance, in 2010, an antibody called VRC01 was discovered by scientists at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center (VRC). VRC01 blocks approximately 90 percent of HIV strains from infecting human cells.
“Like VRC01, N6 blocks infection by binding to a part of the HIV envelope called the CD4 binding site, preventing the virus from attaching itself to immune cells,” NIAID explains.
“Findings from the latest study showed that N6 developed a unique mode of binding that depends less on a variable area of the HIV envelope known as the V5 region and focuses more on conserved regions, which change relatively little among HIV strains. This allows N6 to tolerate changes in the HIV envelope, including the attachment of sugars in the V5 region, a major mechanism by which HIV develops resistance to other VRC01-class antibodies.”
The new findings suggest that N6 could pose advantages over VRC01, researchers noted, adding that due to its potency, N6 may offer “stronger and more durable prevention and treatment benefits, and researchers may be able to administer it subcutaneously (into the fat under the skin) rather than intravenously.”
The breakthrough is coming at a time when over 36.7 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, as at the end of 2015, according to UNAIDS.