Scientists from the Jupiter, Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) announced this week that they have developed an new drug compound to fight the virus that causes AIDS that is both powerful and universally effective, they claim. In fact, the drug appears to work against quite a number of HIV variants and acts as a protective for up to eight months against high viral doses occurring in most human transmissions. Researchers are suggesting that it could possibly be used as a vaccine against the various deadly viral strains.
Medical Xpress reported Feb. 18 that TSRI and more than a dozen other research institutions worked together to develop the anti-HIV compound, posting their findings in the Feb. 18 issue of Nature. The new anti-HIV drug candidate is effective in stopping transmission of every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2 and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus). This includes all of the viral variants that have been isolated from both humans or rhesus macaques. It is important to note that the anti-HIV compound also protects against the virus in human transmissions of higher doses, protecting for eight months after injection and possibly longer.
Michael Farzan, a TSRI professor who led the research, said of the HIV blocker, “Our compound is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far. Unlike antibodies, which fail to neutralize a large fraction of HIV-1 strains, our protein has been effective against all strains tested, raising the possibility it could offer an effective HIV vaccine alternative.”
To understand what the new compound does, it must be remembered that when HIV infects a cell, it inserts its own genetic material and transforms the host cell into a virus manufacturer. Using past discoveries of proteins used to stave off infection, Farzan and his team developed the new drug candidate so it would prevent entry of HIV into the host cell.
“This is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of work on the biochemistry of how HIV enters cells,” Farzan said. At first, he went on, “people thought it was interesting, but no one saw the therapeutic potential. That potential is starting to be realized.”
And harnessing that potential could become critical in the years ahead as new variants of HIV continue to evolve. Just this past week, CBS News reported that a new strain of HIV was discovered in Cuba. The new viral variant, which is a combination of three different separate HIV strains, develops into full-blown AIDS at a rate three times faster than more common strains of HIV.
According to UNAIDS.org, an estimated 35.3 million people around the world were living with HIV/AIDS by 2012. Avert.org notes that, since the recognition of the HIV virus in the early 1980s, nearly 30 million people worldwide have died from AIDS-related causes.