A Weekly Drug Capsule to Treat HIV Patients

S u m m a r y :
A new drug capsule can potentially replace daily pills for HIV treatment. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

Helping HIV Patients to Stick to their Treatment Schedule

HIV continues to challenge scientists to find ways to counteract it. The deadly virus attacks the very defence system of the human body, leaving it vulnerable to harmful pathogens; with a compromised immunity, the body cannot even protect itself from those organisms that it would have otherwise been able to deal with. Current medication methods work on a strict schedule of proper dosage of drugs which are meant to neutralise the negative effects of the virus, and researchers are always trying to find innovative ways to deliver the drugs more effectively. A recent such endeavour brings forth a drug capsule that is hoped to help patients comply with the stringent timetable of taking in HIV pills: one that would only be necessary to administer on a weekly basis instead of the usual daily regimen.

HIV drug capsule to be ingested once weekly, and it delivers the many different drugs in the body throughout the week. Photo Credits: Courtesy of the researchers.

Better Adherence to Treatment Schedule

Replacing the daily pills with weekly ones is aimed at easing the lives of HIV patients. Once the new drug capsule is ingested, it will be releasing its different components gradually over the course of the week, thereby promoting a better adherence to treatment schedule.

“One of the main barriers to treating and preventing HIV is adherence,” says Giovanni Traverso from MIT. “The ability to make doses less frequent stands to improve adherence and make a significant impact at the patient level.”

As a matter of fact, research shows that lack of adherence of patients greatly curbs preventive treatment: the results of these works point at the difficulty of having them to consume the required pills everyday. So, Langer and his team thought that a drug delivery capsule would greatly alleviate this problem.

Swallowing a Box of Pills

The capsule has a star-shaped structure, with 6 extending arms that carry the drugs encased in a coating. Upon consumption by a patient, the arms will gradually unfold themselves to release their passengers. The star backbone is made of a strong polymer while the arms are filled with different polymers to allow for the release of the different drugs at different rates.

“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,” says Traverso.

Preventive Treatment

The capsule is beneficial not only to HIV patients, that is to those who are already infected with the virus, but also those who are at risk of contracting HIV—so it functions as a preventive drug as well.

Furthermore, upon forecasting the impact of a weekly drug on prevention, the researchers found that shifting from a daily dose to a weekly one could boost efficacy of HIV prevention by around 20%.

“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.

“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,” adds Fauci.

Helping Other Patients

This new drug-delivery system might also be useful for patients of other diseases.

“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,” says senior author Robert Langer.

The way the polymer arms was designed would make it fairly easy for the researchers to get other drugs in and out of them.

“To put other drugs onto the system is significantly easier because the core system remains the same,” says lead author Ameya Kirtane. “All we need to do is change how slowly or how quickly it will be released.”


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