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Scientists gang up against HIV

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By Alick Ponje, In Madrid, Spain:

The precedent-setting and most advanced clinical trials to test whether an antibody can prevent HIV infection in people, the Antibody Mediated Prevention (Amp) Studies, provide hope for finding an ultimate answer to the virus, researchers say.

The trials run by the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) headquartered at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre and the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) have enrolled 4,625 participants who are at risk of HIV infection from communities in the United States, Brazil, Peru, Switzerland and sub-Saharan Africa.

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In Africa, the trials have enrolled 1,924 HIV negative heterosexual women ages 18 to 40 at 21 clinical trial sites in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, is sponsoring the trials.

Principal Investigator of the HVTN, virologist and faculty member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, Larry Corey, expressed gratitude at the commitment of study participants and those communities taking part in the Amp Studies.

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“Study participants are the heartbeat of our global clinical trials,” he said ahead of the HIV Research for Prevention 2018 Conference underway in Madrid, Spain.

The Amp studies are said to be the most advanced human trials to test whether the strategy can prevent HIV infection in humans. Study participants are receiving a so-called broadly neutralising antibody (bnAb) as an intravenous infusion every eight weeks.

The antibodies can stop many strains of HIV from infecting human cells in the laboratory.

“The development of bnAbs for HIV prevention to identify targets for HIV vaccine design is a great example of how a concerted basic science programme and important clinical observations lead to new prevention technologies,” HPTN co-principal investigator and director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases, Myron Cohen, said.

The researchers are said to be on a scientific journey to find a safe and effective HIV vaccine to prevent new HIV infections in the future.

An estimated 35 million lives have been lost since the HIV and Aids pandemic began more than three decades ago.

The World Health Organisation estimated that 37.6 million people were living with HIV in 2016, and 1.8 million new infections were documented the same year.

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