A study supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD) and Biopharma, Inc. found that by regularly infusing a certain antibody into HIV patients, the virus was suppressed for up to four months.
The antibody, called UB-421, blocks the HIV binding site located on human immune cells. As a potentially promising treatment for an incurable and once devastating illness, this is an exciting finding for scientists and patients everywhere.
A Primer on HIV/AIDS and ART
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if left untreated. A person with AIDS has a damaged immune system that makes them vulnerable to opportunistic infections and even cancers. HIV has no distinguishing symptoms, so the only way to know for sure if you have it is by testing.
Being infected with HIV and developing AIDS was once believed to be a death sentence. Today, patients tested positive for HIV can live long and productive lives with antiretroviral therapy (ART). Treatment also minimizes the risk of transmission between sexual partners.
However, ART medication – which is typically taken daily – is not cheap. Some patients save money by buying HIV drugs like EPIVIR (lamivudine) from international and online Canadian pharmacy referral services like Rx Connected. These companies ship drugs from licensed pharmacies located in countries with stricter price controls.
Conducted in Taiwan, 29 HIV-positive volunteers were recruited. They were all taking ART drugs and their HIV was well-controlled.
For the study, 14 patients were given eight weekly infusions of UB-421. The other 15 patients received eight bi-weekly infusions at a higher dose. After the experiment, both groups of patients maintained suppressed HIV levels and continued with ART. Only one patient dropped out of the study because they developed a mild skin rash.
Before this experiment, antibody resistance was a problem in HIV research. Previous experiments have managed to suppress HIV for around two weeks by targeting proteins on the virus itself, but HIV mutates rapidly, and the result was antibody-resistant HIV strains. In other words, previous attempts at a similar antibody treatment have been unsuccessful because HIV can mutate in a way to resist it.
In contrast, antibody resistance was not found to be a problem in the NIAD-Biopharma, Inc. study. However, more research needs to be conducted to determine if using UB-421 is truly safe and effective. This is because this study only used 29 volunteers and did not involve a control group receiving a placebo. More studies are planned in Taiwan and Thailand.
People who have engaged in risky sex or shared needles may be extremely anxious about the possibility of contracting HIV. Thanks to modern science, there are now ways to prevent HIV pre-exposure and even ways to protect yourself if you believe you’ve been exposed.
For example, those who are at high risk for HIV infection – such as people who use intravenous drugs – can take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs to reduce their risk.
People who may have been exposed to the virus, such as a health-care worker who accidentally touches a needle, can take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). However, PEP should only be used in emergencies, and treatment needs to start within 72 hours of exposure. If you find yourself in the position of probable exposure, talk to health-care staff about PEP.
As you can probably guess, learning that you are HIV-positive can be a devastating blow to your mental health, not to mention the physical health problems you will have to deal with for the rest of your life. Fortunately, it seems that research is heading in the right direction. And it is possible for HIV-positive patients today to undergo ART, enjoy life, and pose a minimal risk to their partners.
Katie Tachuck is a reporter for News Lair. After graduating from UCLA, Katie got an internship at a local radio station and worked as a investigative journalist and producer. Katie has also worked as a columnist for the The Santa Fe New Mexican. Katie covers economy and community events for News Lair.