This week in good news: Scientists have just made an “exciting breakthrough” in the form of a new antibody - a protein that attaches to bacteria and viruses to flag them for your white blood cells - that can attack 99% of HIV strains.
The study was conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. This impressive collaboration trumped the previous record holder, advanced naturally-occurring antibodies, which usually only have a 90% success rate in preventing HIV infection.
The antibodies used in this trial are actually a combination of three antibodies – all of which are super effective in targeting large numbers of different HIV strains. These “tri-specific antibodies” are infinitely more effective in preventing infection than any antibody that a human could naturally produce on its own.
So how exactly did we find these antibodies? Well, after years of infection, a small number of patients develop powerful weapons called "broadly neutralising antibodies" that attack something fundamental to HIV and can kill large swathes of HIV strains.
“The findings suggest that combination therapies might be essential to prevent HIV in people,” says the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Animals receiving either of the two broadly-neutralizing HIV-1 antibodies individually all became infected, yet passively immunizing the primates with both antibodies together conferred 100% protection.”
Researchers have been trying to use broadly neutralising antibodies as a way to treat HIV, or prevent infection in the first place.
Dr Gary Nabel, the chief scientific officer at Sanofi and one of the report authors, told the BBC News website: "They are more potent and have greater breadth than any single naturally occurring antibody that's been discovered."
Experiments on 24 monkeys showed none of those given the tri-specific antibody developed an infection when they were later injected with the virus.
Dr Nabel said: "It was quite an impressive degree of protection."
The work included scientists at Harvard Medical School, The Scripps Research Institute, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"As a doctor in Africa, I feel the urgency to confirm these findings in humans as soon as possible."
Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it was an intriguing approach.
He added: "Combinations of antibodies that each bind to a distinct site on HIV may best overcome the defences of the virus in the effort to achieve effective antibody-based treatment and prevention."
Human trials of the research are expected to begin in 2018.