NORTH CHICAGO, Ill. (CBS) — Abbott Labs announced Wednesday that a team of its scientists have discovered a new subtype of HIV.
The new subtype is called HIV-1 Group M, subtype L, the North Chicago-based biotech company announced. It is the first new strain discovered in nearly 20 years.
Since the global AIDS pandemic began, 75 million people have been infected with the HIV – and 37.9 million live with it today.
But thanks to the efforts of the global health community throughout the past few decades, the goal of ending the HIV pandemic is becoming feasible, Abbott Labs said.
Still, HIV has numerous different subtypes or strains, and can change and mutate. New strains of the virus must be identified to ensure that both tests and treatments remain effective.
“In an increasingly connected world, we can no longer think of viruses being contained to one location,” Dr. Carole McArthur, a professor in the departments of oral and craniofacial sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and one of the study authors, said a news release. “This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution.”
This is the first time a new subtype of Group M HIV has been identified since guidelines for classifications of new strains of the virus were established in 2000, Abbott said.
Group M HIV viruses are the ones to blame for the global pandemic, which can be traced to the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, Abbott said.
Determining whether an unusual virus is an HIV subtype requires three cases to be discovered independently, Abbott said. The first two samples of the latest subtype were found in the DRC in the 1980s and 1990s, and the third was found in 2001, but was hard to sequence due to technological limits and the nature of the specimen. Thus, it was stored in Abbott’s freezer for several years.
But next-generation sequencing technology is now up to the task, and now, scientists have been able to complete the genome and identify the new HIV strain.
“Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Dr. Mary Rodgers, a principal scientist and head of the Global Viral Surveillance Program, Diagnostics, Abbott and one of the study authors, said in the release. “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.”
Abbott created the Global Viral Surveillance Program 25 years ago to monitor HIV and hepatitis viruses and identify mutations, and also to ensure its diagnostic tests stay up to date, the release said.
According to AIDSVu, 35,728 people are living with HVI in Illinois. Most of those cases are Chicago, which had 19,704 as of 2017.
The study about the new HIV strain is available online.