The scientific world is abuzz with excitement about a possible cure for HIV/AIDS - all natural, from the human body itself.
Announcing the discovery of a peptide (chain of amino acids) derived from filtrate residues of kidney dialysis patients, lead researcher Frank Kirchhoff from the University of Ulm in Germany was quoted: "You want a lot of drug classes, because multi-drug resistant viruses are starting to show up more and more." Accordingly, this compound found in the human blood could prove the basis of a new class of drugs used to target HIV infections, especially by multi-drug resistant strains.
So how does the drug work? This natural anti-HIV factor interferes with a feature on the surface of the AIDS virus that otherwise allows the virus to penetrate the membrane of cells it is about to infect, a process known as fusion.
As no existing drugs affect this stage of infection, the team hopes the compound could be modified to form a new class of similar drugs.
With nearly 40 million people living with HIV worldwide and 3 million deaths last year, new approaches are urgently needed.
Screening hundreds of proteins from human blood discovered the compound called Virus-Inhibitory Peptide or VIRIP. Test tube studies showed VIRIP to inhibit 60 different strains of HIV.
Says Kirchhoff: "A number of studies have suggested that some compounds in the human blood are able to inhibit HIV-1 and control it."
VIRIP is a fragment of a larger protein, but the team is not sure whether it has a function itself. Nor do the researchers know yet exactly how it inhibits HIV. They do know its precise sequence is crucial: adding or subtracting just one of its 20 protein building blocks destroys its ability.
The report published in the journal Cell, describes how the scientists increased the anti-viral potency a hundred fold by just changing two amino acids in the sequence.
As of now, the licensed manufacturing company VIRO Pharmaceuticals GmbH, whose Scientific Director is a co-author of the paper is conducting animal studies of VIRIP to determine if it is safe to test in humans.
"So far, the results look promising," Kirchhoff was quoted, although he agrees it will take five more years of success in animal and human clinical trials, before the drug could be ready to market.