Research for AIDS Cure Advances as HIV Fought in Monkeys

Research for AIDS Cure Advances as HIV Fought in Monkeys

Antibodies derived from the blood of HIV-infected people suppressed the virus in the blood of monkeys in two studies that suggest the experimental approach may improve AIDS therapy or point the way toward a cure. One study showed that a single injection of antibodies reduced the simian, or monkey, version of HIV to undetectable levels in three to seven days — much faster than regular AIDS drugs — and the effect lasted for almost two months. The research, led by Dan Barouch, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, is published today online by the journal Nature.The antibodies represent a new and potentially more powerful approach to treating a disease currently controlled by daily pills such as those made by Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) While those drugs have transformed HIV from a death sentence into a manageable disease, they don’t completely clear the virus from the body. The new antibodies attack HIV in areas the drugs don’t reach, suggesting they may have a role in curing a disease that has confounded scientists for 30 years.

“The antibodies themselves are very, very special,” said Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard affiliate in Boston. “These antibodies should be explored for a variety of different clinical applications. Clearly where there’s going to be substantial interest is evaluating their potential role in cure.”

Elite Controllers

The virus came back in most of the monkeys as expected as levels of the antibodies waned. In three animals, however, the virus still hasn’t rebounded, suggesting the treatment may have kept it in check without further help.

That indicates the antibodies are replicating a rare phenomenon in a group of HIV-infected people called elite controllers whose immune systems keep the virus at bay without the daily pills that are a lifeline for most patients.

“We’re not saying those animals are cured,” Barouch said today in a telephone interview. “It looks like we did convert those animals into elite controllers.”

Barouch and colleagues are in discussions with drugmakers over plans to test the antibodies in humans, though no agreement has been reached, he said, adding he can’t disclose details of the plans. “There is serious interest from industry,” Barouch said.

HIV does its damage by hijacking immune-system cells and using their machinery to replicate itself. While pills such as Gilead’s Atripla block the replication process, they don’t directly target the virus as it moves through blood, and don’t kill infected cells. The new antibodies achieve both targets.

Second Study

The second study, led by Masashi Shingai at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, found a similar result. The group tested two antibodies separately, but found they only suppressed the virus for a week or less, leading to the development of resistant strains. Used together, the effect lasted as long as five weeks. When the virus eventually rebounded, a second dose brought it back under control.

“The findings of these two papers could revolutionize efforts to cure HIV,” Louis Picker, from Oregon Health & Science University, and Steven Deeks, of the University of California at San Francisco, wrote in an editorial accompanying the studies. They weren’t involved in the research.

To contact the reporter on this story: Simeon Bennett in Singapore at

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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