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November 01, 2013

HIV Antibody Infusions Show Promise as Treatment for AIDS Virus

by Jessica Berman

Two teams of researchers are reporting progress in the development of an immunotherapy for HIV.  If successful, HIV antibody infusions could offer an alternative treatment for those infected with the AIDS virus.  

Antibodies are the body’s frontline soldiers.  When it detects an infection, the immune system activates proteins which try to neutralize the invader.

But not everyone infected with HIV can make sufficient numbers of these so-called neutralizing antibodies against the virus.  So, U.S. government scientists and researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts collected neutralizing antibodies from those who make enough of them, purified them and targeted them at a particular region on the AIDS virus.

The purified antibodies, known as monoclonal antibodies, were infused intravenously into rhesus monkeys infected with a virus very similar to HIV.  After the treatments, the monkey virus, known as SHIV, was reduced to undetectable levels in some of the animals.

U.S. Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci says the infusions might someday be an alternative to current AIDS therapies.

“And in fact, if you perfect it well enough, you might, if you have long acting antibodies, you might be able to infuse antibodies into a person a few times a year and get away without having to treat them every single day with a drug,"said Fauci.

In the Beth Deaconess study, antibody infusions drove SHIV in 16 of 18 monkeys down to undetectable levels within a week and kept it there for an average of 56 days.

In another study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, two infusions in asymptomatic monkeys kept the virus in check for more than two months.  But one monkey became antibody resistant.

Fauci says researchers are now preparing for human trials.  He says infusions could also potentially be used to protect the HIV-negative partners of those infected with the virus.

Articles on immunotherapy for HIV are published in the journal Nature.