HIV antibody development discovery advances vaccine search

Over the past few years, scientists have identified two potent antibodies (and dozens more "broadly neutralizing antibodies") that could target most of the thousands of strains of HIV. Still, a key piece of knowledge in developing a vaccine--understanding how these antibodies develop--has remained elusive. But researchers are getting closer.

In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers from the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa said they discovered a change in the outer coating of the virus that enabled two HIV-infected women to develop broadly neutralizing antibodies, The Wall Street Journal reports. One of the women had neutralized 88% of 225 HIV subtypes after three years with the virus, and the other woman neutralized 46% of 41 subtypes of the virus after two years of infection.

HIV is famously adept at avoiding antibodies that would otherwise block the virus from attacking cells. And though the virus changes constantly, the piece of the virus on which the change occurred in the women is common across many HIV strains, WSJ reports.

Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, dubbed the finding "a key advance in the field." Clinical trials on initial vaccine candidates based on research on these broadly neutralizing antibodies will begin in the next two or three years, he said.

About 34.2 million people were living with HIV in 2011, and 1.7 million died, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

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