May 2015

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HIV Therapy Promising in First Human Study

Just one dose of an experimental antibodyGerm-fighting molecule made by the body’s immune system. significantly reduced HIV levels in infected people for up to 28 days. This promising approach, called immunotherapy, might help to combat many strains of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

People with HIV infections often receive antiretroviral therapy to help prevent the virus from multiplying. Despite advances in treatment, scientists haven’t yet designed a vaccine that protects people from getting HIV infections in the first place. 

A research team led by long-time NIH grantee Dr. Michel Nussenzweig at Rockefeller University has been trying a different approach. They’d previously isolated human antibodies that can block many strains of HIV. They then produced these antibodies in the lab. Tests showed that these so-called monoclonal antibodies could prevent or treat HIV infections in animals.

In the current study, the researchers evaluated one of these promising antibodies in people. The small clinical trial included 17 HIV-infected volunteers and 12 without HIV infection. Each person received a single infusion of the experimental antibody at differing doses.

The antibody, called 3BNC117, was well-tolerated by all participants. In the 8 people who got the highest dose, HIV levels dropped quickly and steeply. In some, HIV levels remained low for 28 days.

“What’s special about these antibodies is that they have activity against over 80% of HIV strains and they are extremely potent,” says study coauthor Dr. Marina Caskey.

This study suggests that 3BNC117 is safe in people and could help to control HIV. Future research will continue to explore the use of this and other monoclonal antibodies in HIV prevention and treatment.