Ever since the virus was discovered, scientists have been trying to understand how AIDS disarms the body's defenses. The prevailing theory is that HIV infects the immune system through two receptors on the surface of cells that normally fight off infection. But researchers at Medarex Inc., a biopharmaceuticals company in Princeton, N. J., and Dartmouth Medical School have found that one of those sites actually resists HIV infection. The scientists say that with the help of a new compound, the so-called Fc receptor can turn the immune cell into a highly efficient killer of the virus.
"We have gotten one up on nature by finding a really good triggering agent that acts even more efficiently than the body itself," says Medarex President Donald Drakeman. The new monoclonal-antibody compound, called Bispecific antibody, enables immune cells to connect with and kill the AIDS virus much more readily. Medarex is hoping to start tests of Bispecific antibody on humans next year. The company is already collaborating on research with major pharmaceutical companies such as SmithKline Beecham Inc. and Upjohn Co.