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3. Renewed Focus on HIV Vaccines and Antibodies


Researchers intensified the search for novel types of therapies to prevent, treat, and potentially cure HIV, including immune-based strategies such as antibodies and vaccines.

In October researchers from Emory University and the National Institutes of Heath made a surprising announcement that a monoclonal antibody against α4β7 integrin, similar to the drug vedolizumab used to treat inflammatory bowel disease, produced sustained viral remission in monkeys for up to 2 years after stopping antiretroviral therapy (ART) -- for reason that are not yet well understood.

Turning to early human studies, researchers reported that VRC01, a broadly neutralizing antibody targeting HIV's CD4 binding site, modestly delayed viral rebound following ART interruption. While it did not maintain viral suppression on its own, it may play a role in combination therapy for HIV treatment or a functional cure. Many experts expect that combinations of antibodies, as well as bi-functional antibodies, hold the most promise.

Late in the year the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced the discovery in an HIV-positive individual of a broad and potent antibody dubbed N6 that neutralizes nearly all strains of HIV. Like VRC01, N6 blocks the CD4 binding site, but is less susceptible to viral resistance.

Another study found that injections of PRO 140, a monoclonal antibody that blocks HIV entry into cells, was well-tolerated and maintained undetectable viral load for more than a year after stopping ART.

On the prevention front, the AMP Study is testing whether VRC01 antibodies administered by IV infusion might reduce the risk of HIV infection. And HVTN702 -- the first new vaccine efficacy study in 7 years -- testing the ALVAC-HIV and gp120 protein subunit vaccine combo that previously demonstrated modest efficacy in the RV144 trial in Thailand, got underway in South Africa in November.

NEXT: 4. PrEP Use Widens, But Disparities Remain