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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.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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