A team of AIDS researchers in Hong Kong says its new research, tested on mice, indicates a functional cure for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, eventually leading to a new antibody that could be used for both prevention and treatment.
The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, come as China faces a growing epidemic among high-risk groups, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men.
The UN-supported AIDS Data Hub says about 850,000 people in China are infected with HIV, which disables the immune system and makes people far more vulnerable to infections and disease.
A team led by Professor Chen Zhiwei at Hong Kong University’s AIDS Institute says its discovery, tested on mice, shows the new antibody can help control the virus and eliminate infected cells.
The antibody would be able to treat all varieties of HIV – a first, Chen said - as there is no one vaccine to treat the many different types of HIV viruses.
"For our newly discovered bispecific antibody, it works for all of them, so that’s the major difference," Chen told Reuters.
Chen and his team say they aim to bring the antibody into clinical trials within a timeframe of three to five years.
Chen said a "functional cure" meant the virus level would be so low as to be undetectable in the body, as long as patients kept taking injections of the antibody, perhaps on a quarterly basis, or less frequently.
Those infected with HIV can keep the virus under control with antiretroviral drugs that stop it from infecting new cells.
However, treatments must be taken daily and do not eliminate the infected cells from the body. So the virus can still exist, and symptoms return, if patients stop taking medication properly.
The new antibody would have a significantly longer half-life than current treatments, and could, for example, be administered on a quarterly basis, Chen said, making it easier than the daily treatment most HIV-infected patients face.
Promising results did not mean the treatment would be readily available soon, said Andrew Chidgey, chief executive of the charity group AIDS Concern in Hong Kong.
"Governments are being very slow to implement programmes here," he added. "So just because a treatment becomes available, doesn’t mean that people will get it, or that it will have an impact."