'Fossil' virus discovery could lead t...
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‘Fossil’ virus discovery could lead to HIV immunotherapy
Drug Discovery, Pharma News
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Finding a cure or preventive method for HIV has proved a daunting challenge to scientists ever since the discovery of the virus. One of the major hurdles to drug and vaccine development is that HIV has few known sites of vulnerability, but a new discovery of an ancestral fossil virus buried within everyone’s genomes might provide the key to eradicating the disease.

Researchers at George Washington University have found an antibody that can be directed against this fossil virus–an ancestral version of a retrovirus that has become a largely useless part of our DNA.

HIV has shown to be a difficult target because of its tendency for frequent mutatations, due to its high rate of replication. Much research has been directed at developing neutralizing antibodies directed at the HIV-1 envelope in order to stop the virus. But most antibodies in development haven’t been able to keep up with the constantly changing virus. The team’s findings could be a significant advance in the field of HIV research, since this fossil virus would be a more fixed target than HIV itself.

“What we’ve found is an antibody that recognizes these fossil viruses within all our genomes, which can neutralize HIV-1 in a way that has never been seen before,” said Dr. Douglas Nixon, chair of the department of microbiology, immunology and tropical medicine at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. HIV-1 is the most common strain of the virus. “We have found in vitro, in the test tube, that you can actually have an antibody work against HIV-1, which is not directed against the HIV-1 virus itself.”

The research could lay the groundwork for a new immunotherapy option for treating–and potentially curing–HIV.

Investigators from Oregon Health & Science University, the University of Rochester, and the University of California, San Francisco collaborated on the research, which was sponsored in part by drug giant Pfizer ($PFE). Pfizer has two antiretrovirals on the market to treat HIV; delavirdine, marketed as Rescriptor, and maraviroc, marketed as Selzentry in the U.S. and Celsentri outside the U.S.

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