The field of pharmacy technology is continually innovating and developing new treatment options to better the quality of life. However, despite seemingly fast-paced pharmaceutical advancements, some of the largest victories take years if not decades of research.
Such is the case with a promising novel drug developed by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute. In a study published in Nature, scientists at the institute’s Jupiter, Florida, campus announced the success of a drug that blocks high doses of HIV-1, HIV-2 and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) in animal testing.1
This unconventional vaccine method, tested on monkeys, alters DNA to fight HIV cells. Whereas traditional vaccines use minute portions of a disease to build up the immune system, this drug instead gives DNA the power to neutralize HIV. The published study found that the drug protected monkeys against HIV at extremely high doses and remained effective for eight months after the injection.1
If these results are found to be consistent in human testing, the drug could prove to be a remarkable advancement in preventing the spread of HIV.
As explained in a news release from The Scripps Research Institute, HIV infects a cell by attacking the immune system at a part of the cell called a CD4 lymphocyte.2 The HIV then fuses with the host cell and transforms it to produce more of the disease.
Previous research done by Michael Farzan, lead researcher on the study, and his team, found that a co-receptor called CCR5 has properties that help prevent infection. Using these findings, Farzan’s lab developed a drug that simultaneously latches to HIV cells at two points, which prevents the virus from attacking host cells.
The team then used technology developed by other scientists that uses an innocuous virus as a vehicle for delivering the drug. Once the drug is injected, the body produces protein to prevent the HIV infection. Farzan believes this system could serve as effective protection from HIV for years. In TSRI release, Farzan explains:2
“Our compound is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far. Unlike antibodies, which fail to neutralize a large fraction of HIV-1 strains, our protein has been effective against all strains tested, raising the possibility it could offer an effective HIV vaccine alternative.”
According to Newsweek, Farzan’s development expands on research done by Dr. Philip Johnson, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, that was first published in 2003.3 Though Johnson was not involved in the study, such collaborations exemplify the wide-ranging possibilities of pharmacy technology.
Modern technology allows scientists to efficiently share research and utilize the findings of others to speed up the rate of advancements in the field overall. In the case of Johnson and Farzan, both men have been working on years of complementary research independently. The rewards of such dedication could be monumental. Farzan elaborates:2
“This is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of work on the biochemistry of how HIV enters cells. When we did our original work on CCR5, people thought it was interesting, but no one saw the therapeutic potential. That potential is starting to be realized.”
1 “AAV-expressed eCD4-Ig provides durable protection from multiple SHIV challenges,” by Matthew R. Gardner, Lisa M. Kattenhorn, Hema R. Kondur, Markus von Schaewen, Tatyana Dorfman, Jessica J. Chiang, Kevin G. Haworth, Julie M. Decker, Michael D. Alpert, Charles C. Bailey, Ernest S. Neale, Christoph H. Fellinger, Vinita R. Joshi, Sebastian P. Fuchs, Jose M. Martinez-Navio, Brian D. Quinlan, Annie Y. Yao, Hugo Mouquet, Jason Gorman, Baoshan Zhang, Pascal Poignard, Michel C. Nussenzweig, Dennis R. Burton, Peter D. Kwong, Michael Piatak, Jeffrey D. Lifson, Guangping Gao, Ronald C. Desrosiers, David T. Evans, Beatrice H. Hahn, Alexander Ploss, Paula M. Cannon, Michael S. Seaman & Michael Farzan, Nature, Feb. 18, 2015. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14264.html
2 “Scripps Florida Scientists Announce Anti-HIV Agent So Powerful It Can Work in a Vaccine,” The Scripps Research Institute, Feb. 18, 2015. http://www.scripps.edu/news/press/2015/20150218farzan.html
3 “Promising HIV ‘Vaccine’ Inactivates All Virus Strains, Prevents Infection,” by Douglas Main, Newsweek, Feb. 18, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/promising-hiv-vaccine-inactivates-all-virus-strains-prevents-infection-307608