Coming Soon: A Once-Weekly Pill to Fight HIV? 9/1/2018

Published by WEBMD

Researchers say a once-a-week, slow-release pill may keep HIV infections under control and help prevent new HIV infections altogether.

The pill in question is still early in development. But it contains the same highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) -- the drug combination that revolutionized HIV treatment back in the mid-1990s. Those medications turned a nearly always fatal infection into a manageable chronic illness.

But HAART regimens are a daily affair, and infected patients who fail to stick to their dosage routine run the risk of drug resistance and a potentially deadly return of their disease.

Study author Dr. Giovanni Traverso said that the new once-weekly pill aims to change all that, with the goal being to "make it easier for patients to take medication."

"We and others have recognized that more infrequent dosing -- once a week as compared to once a day -- is associated with a higher likelihood of patients continuing to take their medication," Traverso said.

"In this most recent study," he added, "we demonstrated the capacity of a novel dosage form, in the shape of a star, to house multiple drug-polymer combinations and slowly release drugs over the course of seven days."

The new pill sits in the stomach for a full week, as each of seven pill compartments opens up, one-by-one, to deliver a 24-hour dose of three HAART drugs, he explained.

Preliminary testing with pigs suggests the approach works. Testing in people is expected to begin within one to two years. If equally successful, Traverso envisions the new pill will be available within five years. But research in animals does not always pan out in humans.

Traverso is an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He and his colleagues published their study (which was funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) online in the Jan. 9 issue of Nature Communications.

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