By Daily Mail
A new weekly HIV treatment was shown to work in animals in a new study, prompting its manufacturer to begin development of a pill for humans.
HIV medications can now keep levels of the virus so low in people with the disease that they are undetectable and cannot be transmitted.
But traditional therapies require taking many potent drugs, or getting frequent injections, so there has been a recent push in the medical community to develop therapies that need to be taken less frequently and from home.
Massachusetts-based drug manufacturer Lyndra’s most recent test of its treatment found that effective, oral doses of three HIV-fighting compounds could stay in the systems of animals for sustained periods of time, as proof of concept for the drug they are developing.
Progress in medications for as well as social awareness and destigmatisation of HIV have greatly improved quality of life for those living with it.
In September of last year, that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that those with undetectable viral loads – or levels of the infection – in their systems are now at ‘effectively no risk’ of transmitting the disease.
The announcement was celebrated by the HIV positive community and put a sort of seal of approval on the efficacy of modern treatments.
But, even as life spans continue to stretch for HIV positive people, the disease remains incurable, requiring a lifetime of treatment.
Perhaps the biggest advancement in HIV treatment to come to market has been a single pill that combines the three key drug compounds used that combat the virus.
The oral medication has to be taken every day, however, some studies have suggested that missing even two days of the pill can give the virus a window of opportunity to return to detectable levels.
It is nearly impossible to accurately monitor how well HIV patients stick to their medication regimens, but a National Institutes of Health study done last year linked adherence to visits to care providers.
It estimated that only about 57 per cent of those who were diagnosed and connected with a provider kept with up with their appointments, suggesting they may not keep up with their medications either.
“Because people with HIV require life-long antiretroviral therapy, a long-acting oral option that could be taken at home would make it easier for patients to adhere to their treatment regimen,” said Dr Andrew Bellinger, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Lyndra.
He and his team hope that “by fitting into a patient’s regular routine, an ultra-long-acting therapy would be taken consistently, improving therapeutic success and helping avoid viral resistance”.
In the proof of concept study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers simulated a variety of adherence levels in large animals, using a “human-sized pill”, said Dr Bollinger.
They found that even the animals that were given just one pill a week maintained undetectable levels of the HIV virus. This suggests that an equivalent dose for a human could do the same.
“Based on these findings, we are developing long-acting oral formulations of HIV therapies that can be commercialised,” said Dr Bellinger.
“We believe these therapies could dramatically improve the probability of treatment success for patients who often forget to take their medicine on time.”
Taking the medications less frequently could also facilitate a psychological and lifestyle shift for those living with HIV.
“It would be like a pill holiday,” says Dr Bollinger. “Not being burdened by the constant reminder of your illness, you would get to be normal person, and I think that’s a powerful psychology.”