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Eradicating AIDS Is Within Our Grasp

French researchers have made significant discoveries that lead them to believe that a vaccine is imminent. It would target the protein that allows the HIV virus to multipy.

"Science has never been so close"
"Science has never been so close"
Paul Molga

MARSEILLE — Thirty years since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, therapeutic leads against the virus are finally starting to appear clearly, making the notion of a cure realistic.

"Science has never been so close to breaking the mutation mechanism that protects HIV from the body's natural defense system," explains Michel-Paul Correa, director of the International Institute for the Development and Support of Innovative Scientific Research.

His scientific committee, headed by the man who co-discovered the virus, French virologist Claude Chermann, has pinned its hopes on a series of experiments that target the enzymes necessary for the virus to multiply or the receptors that enable it to enter the cells.

The most advanced research projects are those being carried out by French startup Biosantech, which is developing a vaccine that "provokes an encouraging immune response," says Dr. Jean Bora de Mareuil, head of the company's research and development. The molecule this biotechnology company developed targets the Tat protein, which enables the virus to multiply.

The scientific community is well acquainted with this key protein. In the 1990s, one of its variants was identified in a young Gabonese woman named Oyi, who carried the virus but was in good health, as were her three children, all born HIV-negative. "We formulated the hypothesis that a synthetic active ingredient derived from Tat Oyi (the variant found in the Gabonese patient) acted like an "anti-Tat" protein, preventing the virus from multiplying," de Mareuil explains. "By neutralizing it, we allow the body to restore its cellular immunity so it can eliminate the contaminated cells by itself."

Tested on HIV-infected monkeys, Tat Oyi has proved to be as efficient as it was in the study on Gabonese patients. Harvard University researchers confirmed the results, saying that it was indeed the Tat Oyi protein that, by producing the adequate antibodies to fight against the Tat protein, enabled monkeys to resist the virus. In France, Marseille-based Erwann Loret, the researcher who started the experiments, and his team at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), filed a patent for which Biosantech has the exclusive license.

From monkeys to people

Human trials began in April 2013, and the tests on 48 HIV-positive patients have proved the absence of toxicity in the vaccine. Phase two should be complete by the end of the year. It's expected to determine what dosage is the most efficient to produce anti-Tat antibodies.

Divided into three groups, each patient received three injections of different concentrations or a placebo before their triple combination therapy was halted for two months. "Several patients continued to show a very low level of viral reproduction after the interruption of their therapy," de Mareuil says.

There will be a new trial in 2015 with 80 additional patients to test the absence of side effects and confirm the treatment's efficiency. The goal is to have at least 30% of patients with an undetectable virus after their treatment is suspended. If that's successful, a final study will test the vaccine on a large scale according to UNAID norms by comparing it to placebos and reference treatments.

Anti-Tat is not the first vaccine to be assessed. Over the last three decades, more than 600 clinical tests have been conducted. None went beyond phase one. Before the summer, Biosantech managed to raise 800,000 euros ($1 million) from 107 investors, making it the most important crowdfunding campaign to date in France.

But the vaccine isn't the only promising lead. In early November, virologist Didier Raoult from the Méditerranée Infection foundation, and the team of professor Yves Lévy, the new president of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, made a significant discovery. They demonstrated that a previously unknown anti-viral enzyme called Apobec was not activated by the AIDS virus. That suggests that "the reactivation of this enzyme could open up new prospects to cure the disease," Raoult says.

This hypothesis originated from the observation of how the virus evolves in koala bears. The infected animals have spontaneously recovered by integrating the virus in their genes until they were able to neutralize it and transfer their immunity to their offspring. The same thing is happening among humans. "About 8% of the human genome contains deactivated retroviruses," Raoult says.

Concerning AIDS, the so-called "endogenization" process — basically, spontaneous cure — has been observed in at least two HIV-positive patients. Their genome sequence showed that the virus was unactivated, probably because of the action of the Apobec enzyme on the DNA of the virus. One of these patients, aged 57, is now considered cured, 30 years after being diagnosed with HIV.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why The U.S. Lost Its Leverage In The Middle East — And May Never Get It Back

In the Israel-Hamas war, Qatar now plays the key role in negotiations, while the United States appears increasingly disengaged. Shifts in the region and beyond require that Washington move quickly or risk ceding influence to China and others for the long term.

Photograph of U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken  shaking hands with sraeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

November 30, 2023, Tel Aviv, Israel: U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Chuck Kennedy/U.S State/ZUMA
Sébastien Boussois


PARIS — Upon assuming office in 2008, then-President Barack Obama declared that United States would gradually begin withdrawing from various conflict zones across the globe, initiating a complex process that has had a major impact on the international landscape ever since.

This started with the American departure from Iraq in 2010, and was followed by Donald Trump's presidency, during which the "Make America Great Again" policy redirected attention to America's domestic interests.

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The withdrawal trend resumed under Joe Biden, who ordered the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in 2021. To maintain a foothold in all intricate regions to the east, America requires secure and stable partnerships. The recent struggle in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrates that Washington increasingly relies on the allied Gulf states for any enduring influence.

Since the collapse of the Camp David Accords in 1999 during Bill Clinton's tenure, Washington has consistently supported Israel without pursuing renewed peace talks that could have led to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

While President Joe Biden's recent challenges in pushing for a Gaza ceasefire met with resistance from an unyielding Benjamin Netanyahu, they also stem from the United States' overall disengagement from the issue over the past two decades. Biden now is seeking to re-engage in the Israel-Palestine matter, yet it is Qatar that is the primary broker for significant negotiations such as the release of hostages in exchange for a ceasefire —a situation the United States lacks the leverage to enforce.

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