As of 2015, approximately 15.8 million people all over the world were receiving treatment for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to the United Nations. The more common HIV treatment is the antiretroviral therapy (ART), a combination of different antiretroviral drugs.
Although antiretroviral therapy can slow the replication of HIV in a patient's body, research has found that its side effects include gastrointestinal problems, bone loss and kidney problems. What's more, if a patient stops taking the treatment or misses a few doses, the virus in the body can rebound quickly.
Now, scientists from the Rockefeller University and University of Cologne are developing a new kind of treatment that may provide long-term control of the virus - a therapy based on antibodies.
In a report, the research team described how a single dose of this antibody-based drug therapy can stimulate the immune response of patients, allowing them to make better antibodies against HIV.
Till Schoofs, one of the first authors of the study, says results in 2015 indicated that the treatment can greatly reduce the amount of HIV in a patient's blood, but they wanted to monitor the patients for a longer period in order to find out how the immune system reacted to new therapy.
Study researchers used the molecule 3BNC117, a neutralizing antibody, to fight a wide range of HIV strains. Johannes Scheid, a student of study author Michel Nussenzweig, isolated the molecule years prior the study from an HIV-infected patient.
This patient's immune system possessed an exceptional ability to counteract HIV in the blood by stopping the virus from destroying and infecting certain immune cells known as CD4 cells. The destruction of these immune cells is a sign of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Past studies have revealed that the molecule can neutralize up to 80 percent of HIV strains found all over the world. Schoofs and his colleagues therefore theorized that providing the antibody to patients would help them fight the virus.
The study involved 15 patients with high levels of HIV in their blood, and 12 patients whose condition was controlled with ART. Patients who received the single dose of 3BNC117 were followed for six months.
In the end, 14 out of 15 patients with high levels of HIV at the beginning were creating new antibodies that neutralized different HIV strains.
Schoofs says it typically takes a year for a body to start creating good antibodies against the virus.
"There might be an even better effect later on, especially if patients are given more than one dose of 3BNC117," adds Schoofs.
The team's findings, which are featured in the journal Science, could help experts figure out whether a stronger antiviral effect can be found. Researchers will conduct a Phase 2 trial in which patients who received ART will switch to the new treatment.