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Slow-release, once-weekly pill for HIV developed

Published on 10/01/18 at 09:23am
IMAGE: MIT/Melanie Gonick

Patient adherence is a big issue across the healthcare system, where individuals, even with the most serious conditions, do not take medicine as advised.

In the management of HIV through antiretroviral treatment (ART), it is estimated that average adherence is 70% (according to researchers from the University of California). This is a significant worry when treatment with ART requires adherence of 95% and above to be effective.

In order to try to combat this and improve adherence, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT have designed a pill that can be taken only once a week and is able to deliver ART in appropriate amounts during the course of the week.

The actual make-up of the pill is an ordinary capsule that contains a 4cm (1.5 inch) star that unfolds when the coating of capsule dissolves. The star shape stops its exit from the stomach and allows the delivery of the medicine from the arms, with each of the six arms being able to carry a specific dose of medicine.

Once the star has delivered the medicine, it begins to break up and pass through the digestive system. The preclinical trial that suggested this form of treatment may be a promising option was conducted in pigs, an animal that has a similar digestive system to humans.

“A longer-acting, less invasive oral formulation could be one important part of our future arsenal to stop the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, which partly funded the research.

He continued, “Substantial progress has been made to advance antiretroviral therapies, enabling a person living with HIV to achieve a nearly normal lifespan and reducing the risk of acquiring HIV. However, lack of adherence to once-daily therapeutics for infected individuals and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for uninfected at-risk people remain a key challenge. New and improved tools for HIV treatment and prevention, along with wider implementation of novel and existing approaches, are needed to end the HIV pandemic as we know it. Studies such as this help us move closer to achieving this goal”.

The researchers also pointed out that the pill’s applications are not limited to just HIV treatment, as it could be used to manage or prevent other conditions; in the preclinical trial, the pigs were actually treated with a malaria drug, ivermectin.

The next stage is to take the pill into human trials, with a company, Lyndra, formed to do this. The company is also working on capsules that could stay in the stomach for longer periods of time, allowing for extended delivery.

Ben Hargreaves

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