New Hope for HIV Prevention as Researchers Target Weak Spot

3 September 2009 (Last Updated September 3rd, 2009 18:30)

Researchers from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), have announced the discovery of two powerful new antibodies that target a specific weak spot on the HIV virus. The new discovery will allow researchers to develop new vaccines based on what scientists are now calling the

Researchers from the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), have announced the discovery of two powerful new antibodies that target a specific weak spot on the HIV virus.

The new discovery will allow researchers to develop new vaccines based on what scientists are now calling the "Achilles heel" of the HIV virus.

The two newly discovered broadly neutralising antibodies (bNAbs), called PG9 and PG16, are the first to have been identified in more than a decade and are the first to have been isolated from donors in developing countries.

Broadly neutralising antibodies are only produced by a minority of HIV-infected individuals and are distinct in that they neutralise a high percentage of the many types of HIV in circulation worldwide.

IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center director Dennis Burton said that these new antibodies are more potent than other antibodies described to date and can be attached to a potentially more accessible site on the HIV virus.

"Now we may have a better chance of designing a vaccine that will elicit such broadly neutralising antibodies, which we think are key to successful vaccine development," Burton said.

Scientists believe that teaching the body to produce these powerful antibodies before exposure to the virus could well be the key to preventing HIV infection.

Before this finding only four antibodies to HIV had been discovered that were widely agreed to be broadly neutralising.