United States scientists at the medical device and healthcare major Abbott labs discovered a new strain of HIV virus, the company has announced.
Dr Carole McArthur, the study's co-author, said that the discovery "reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to out think this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution".
According to UNAIDS, 37.9 million people in the world are living with HIV, 61 per cent (23.2m) of whom are being treated with antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Abbott created its Global Viral Surveillance Program 25 years ago to monitor HIV and hepatitis viruses and identify mutations to ensure the company's diagnostic tests remain up to date.
"Identifying new viruses such as this one is like searching for a needle in a haystack", said Dr. Mary Rodgers, head of Abbott's Global Viral Surveillance Program and one of the study authors. This is an outlier'.
For a variant to be considered as a new strain, there must be at least three independent cases reported.
The sample was small, and while it seemed similar to the two older samples, scientists wanted to test the whole genome to be sure.
So scientists at Abbott and the University of Missouri developed new techniques to study and map the 2001 sample. At the time, there wasn't technology to determine if this was the new subtype.
"By advancing our techniques and using next generation sequencing technology, we are pulling the needle out with a magnet".
It is as yet unclear whether this subtype acts differently from other subtypes of the virus but current treatments can fight this new strain so there is no major cause for concern, it is merely another step in finding a cure for the disease.
"Latest statistics from Public Health England show that around 7% of people living with HIV in the United Kingdom are unaware of their status - that's why regular HIV testing is vital and we will be getting that message out there as part of National HIV Testing Week later this month". UNAIDS estimates that in 2016, some 1.8 million people became newly infected.