A New Look at a Possible HIV Cure

Written by | HIV, Wellness

By preventing HIV from bonding with T cells, a new drug could be both an HIV cure and an HIV vaccine.

Michael Farzan

Michael Farzan, Ph.D
Michael Farzan is a professor at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute.

It’s always exciting when news of a potential cure or vaccine crosses the wire, though we’ve had our hopes raised and dashed before. But something feels different about the recent news from Jupiter, FL, where scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have created a drug that is so effective, it may also work as a vaccine.

The research involved scientists from more than 12 institutions and was published in the journal Nature. According to TSRI, “The study shows that the new drug candidate blocks every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2 and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) that has been isolated from humans or rhesus macaques, including the hardest-to-stop variants. It also protects against much-higher doses of virus than occur in most human transmission and does so for at least eight months after injection.”

Normally, once HIV enters the body, it finds a CD4 lymphocyte (commonly known as a T cell). The HIV then binds to the T cell and injects its RNA to turn that T cell into an “HIV factory,” which produces more and more HIV until a person’s immune system becomes too compromised to fight infection.

Farzan Hiv Bridge

The Farzan Hiv Bridge
The image above shows how HIV attempts to attach via
receptors CD4 (in red) and CCR5 (in green). Above, these parts are connected by an antibody (in gray). Because the inhibitor binds both sites simultaneously, it triggers the virus to change its shape, effectively blocking HIV-1 from reproducing

Think of T cells and HIV as Velcro strips: when they get together, they stick. Now imagine if one side of the Velcro is made so smooth that no sticking can occur. This new drug candidate works on that same premise. It attaches to spots on the surface of the virus that make it impossible to bind to T cells. If there is no binding, RNA cannot be injected, and HIV cannot replicate.

This new drug is an injectable, and “once injected into muscle tissue, like HIV itself, the vehicle turns those cells into factories that could produce enough of the new protective protein to last for years, perhaps decades,” said Michael Farzan (pictured), a professor at The Scripps Research Institute who helped craft this potentially game-changing new drug.

Last modified: June 11, 2018