Investigators ID a rare antibody that may offer a key to elusive HIV vaccine

For several years now, scientists working on an HIV vaccine have been focused on a small set of patients whose immune systems were able to generate rare antibodies able to vanquish most strains of the lethal virus. And over the weekend a team of scientists from South Africa and the U.S. say that one woman--dubbed CAP256-VRC26--may have offered a key to do just that.

According to the investigators, CAP256 swiftly produced antibodies that had particularly long arms capable of penetrating the sugars that offer a protective shield for HIV to hide behind. And the scientists were able to clone the antibodies and study the pathway of its development, making it possible to start primate studies ahead of possible human studies.

One of the key attributes of these antibodies, notes the NIH, is that they target the V1V2 region of the virus, which tends to remain stable while the rest of the virus is known for frequent mutations, which have thwarted decades of investigative work as HIV/AIDS went on to kill millions of people around the globe.

"Broadly neutralizing antibodies have previously been shown to be effective in preventing and treating HIV infection in animals, but this has never before been shown in humans," project leader Abdool Karim told the Mail & Guardian.

Primate studies have been controversial in drug development, as many biopharma companies publicly swear off their use in animal studies. But scientists have remained divided over whether primates should continue to be used for HIV studies, where they can provide invaluable evidence about their potential in humans.

- here's the release from the NIH
- read the story from the Mail & Guardian