Scientists are inching toward developing a vaccine for AIDS, an immunodeficiency disease caused by the HIV virus that currently affects 36.7 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
In a paper published in the journal Science in September, scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Paris-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi described a "three-pronged" antibody, engineered in a lab, that binds to three critical sites on the HIV virus. By attacking the virus from three sides, the "trispecific" antibody creates a roadblock that even HIV — known for its constant mutating — should struggle to circumvent.
"This is very impressive and really very exciting for people who are looking for ways to prevent HIV acquisition," said Rowena Johnston, director of research at amfAR, a foundation that raises money for the study of AIDS.
Though therapies for HIV/AIDS now allow people to more effectively manage the disease, it still claims 1 million lives around the world every year and represents about $3.5 billion in annual U.S. health-care costs. The rate of new infections in the U.S. has fallen in recent years, to 37,600 in 2014 (the most recent year for which stats are available). But in Africa — where two-thirds of all new infections occur — there were 960,000 new AIDS/HIV cases in 2016.
Further alarming health advocates is the Trump administration's decision to slash its global HIV/AIDS spending by 24 percent, leaving nonprofits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation scrambling to make up the shortfall. "There's no way to balance a cut in a rich country's generosity," said Mr. Gates in September.