Scientists say that one of the biggest obstacles currently facing attempts to reduce the numbers of HIV-related deaths worldwide is adherence to the strict drug schedule over a long period of time.
Now instead of having to take a daily cocktail of medications to fight the virus, patients could just take a single capsule capable of delivering a week’s worth of treatment.
Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate who worked on the new study, says: “The ability to make doses less frequent stands to improve adherence and make a significant impact at the patient level.”
The overall mortality rate of HIV has dropped significantly since the introduction of antiretroviral therapies in the 1990s, but there were still 2.1 million new infections and 1.2 million HIV-related deaths in 2015.
And Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, says that key to reducing these numbers is a longer-acting pill, he says: “A less invasive oral formulation could be one important part of our future arsenal to stop the HIV/AIDS pandemic.”
The team at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital decided to use a delivery system they had previously formulated for ivermectin malaria tablets in 2016, that stayed in the stomach for up to two weeks.
The capsule is a star-shaped structure with six arms that can be loaded with the necessary drugs, folded inwards and encased in a smooth swallowable coating.
After the capsule is taken orally, the arms unfold and gradually release their cargo.
With the help of Lyndra, the company helping to launch the technology, the team redesigned the capsule so it could deliver a combination of different drugs in each different arm.
“In a way, it’s like putting a pillbox in a capsule. Now you have chambers for every day of the week on a single capsule,” said Traverso.
So far the drug has only been tested in pigs, but the tests showed that the capsules did work as planned.
And as a result, the researchers suggested that if it has the same effects in humans, the innovation could improve the efficacy of HIV preventative treatment by approximately 20%.
When this figure was incorporated into a computer model of HIV transmission in South Africa, the model showed that 200,000 to 800,000 new infections could be prevented over the next 20 years.
Professor Robert Langer said: “We are all very excited about how this new drug-delivery system can potentially help patients with HIV/AIDS, as well as many other diseases.”
This delivery system is not only useful for those who have already contracted the disease but could also be used by people at risk of exposure to stop them being infected.
They are now working toward performing a clinical trial using this delivery system.