Abbott Researchers Discover First New HIV Strain in 20 Years


Through the use of cutting-edge gene sequencing, a team of researchers from Abbott Laboratories discovered a new strain of HIV, the first time a new subtype of HIV-1 has been identified in nearly 20 years.

The Abbott research marks the first time a new subtype of "Group M" HIV virus has been identified since guidelines for classifying new strains of HIV were established in 2000. Group M viruses are responsible for the global pandemic, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo in Sub-Saharan Africa, Abbott said. The findings from the Abbott research have been published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS).

In its discovery announcement, Abbott said three cases of a new HIV subtype must be independently discovered. For this particular new strain, Abbott said the first two samples of this subtype were initially discovered in the Congo in the 1980s and 1990s. The third sample was collected in 2001, Abbott said but it had been difficult to sequence because of the amount of virus in the sample and the existing technology. New sequencing techniques developed by Abbott scientists allowed the researchers to “narrow in” on the portion of the sample with the HIV virus in order to sequence it and complete the genome.

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“Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Mary Rodgers, head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program, Diagnostics at Abbott and one of the study authors said in a statement. “By advancing our techniques and using next-generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet. This scientific discovery can help us ensure we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks.”

With the new discovery, Abbott is making the new strain available to researchers so it can be evaluated for the development of potential new treatments. Since the start of the global AIDS epidemic, more than 75 million people have been infected with HIV. At one time, it was a virtual death sentence, however, with the development of new medications and treatments, more than 37.9 million people are able to control their virus and continue living productive lives.

There have been a number of new HIV treatments to hit the market in recent years, including Merck’s Pifeltro, which was approved in combination with other antiretroviral medicines and Delstrigo for HIV-1 patients who are switching from a stable antiretroviral regimen and whose virus is suppressed. Gilead Sciences also scored approval for Descovy for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. There are also a number of new treatments in the pipelines of companies, such as ViiV’s two-drug combination of cabotegravir and Janssen’s rilpivirine. Other treatment options, such as bone marrow transplants using CRISPR technology and regulating the protein BRD4 are also being studied as a means to treat and potentially cure the disease.

Carole McArthur, a professor in the departments of oral and craniofacial sciences at the University of Missouri and one of the Abbott study authors, said it’s important to understand that viruses are no longer contained to one location due to living in an increasingly connected world. McArthur said that in order to end the HIV pandemic, the health community must “outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution.”

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