A molecule that has shown an ability to block HIV could lead to an alternative vaccine. US scientists have engineered a compound that shields CD4 cells by blocking the points where the virus binds to receptors.
The technique has successfully protected four monkeys against repeated attempts to infect them with multiple doses of SHIV (a simian strain of HIV).
Lead author Michael Farzan from Scripps Research Institute in California said the molecule was the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor discovered so far. “We are closer than any other approach to universal protection,” he said.
Researchers, who have been trying for three decades to develop an effective vaccine, have responded positively to the findings. “This is going to be much better than any vaccine on the horizon,” said Dr Nancy Haigwood, a leading HIV researcher at Oregon University.
Philip Johnson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has led earlier vaccine trials, said the primate data was outstanding. “It’s further validating the idea that we should be thinking in alternative terms about how to attack HIV vaccines.”
It is hoped the discovery will eventually lead to a vaccine that will provide both long-term protection against infection and sustained remission in people already living with HIV. If further tests are successful, researchers say they want to proceed to human trials within a year.