The treatment of HIV has been premised on the daily intake of antiretroviral drugs and they do not eliminate the virus from the body. Antiretroviral therapy has prolonged life and HIV has ceased being a death sentence, as it's been in use since the 1990s. But a new, revolutionary drug to be taken once a year has been unveiled by a Kenyan scientist based in the United States, Prof Benson Edagwa.
The invention – called the Long-acting slow effective release antiretroviral therapy (Laser Art) – means that people living with HIV can only take the drug once a year. The current drugs require people living with HIV to take them daily. This arduous task has been blamed for the low adherence rates in people living with HIV. Prof Edagwa and his team at the University of Nebraska School of Medicine modified an existing ARV drug – cabotegravir – “to enable the body to absorb and release it slowly from tissues over 12 months.”
Prof Edagwa said, “This occurs for extended periods, and in laboratory and animal testing, up to a year.” The new formulation will be administered as an injection once a year.
The most crucial thing is that the new pill is not a cure for HIV. However, could also act as a vaccine for healthy people who take it and have unprotected sex, according to scientists.
The new drug has passed safety tests after trials were run on mice and non-human primates. The new drug proved to be safe. Laser Art was combined with gene-editing technology to eliminate HIV in mice.
The University of Nebraska School of Medicine said, “To date, no adverse side effects have been demonstrated in any of the animal testing models. Human testing has not begun, but the development necessary to achieve this goal is ongoing with the assistance of scientists from the Clinton Health Access Initiative.”
Prof Edagwa developed the new pill with the help of a fellow scholar, Prof Howard Gendelman, a virologist and chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience at UNMC.
Prof Gendelman said, “this pharmaceutical development has the potential to not only treat but also prevent viral transmission. This may certainly be a therapeutic milestone.”
This cutting-edge innovation was created by “chemically converting cabotegravir into a nanocrystal and allowing the body’s enzymes to slowly convert the modified drug into an active form. This is slowly released from tissue stores.” The current ARV drugs do not have the capability of reaching certain parts of the body, where HIV hides. Viral reservoirs where the virus hides and where the current drugs cannot reach include the lymph nodes and the central nervous system. The current ARV drugs were modified to reach the spleen, bone marrow, and brain, where the virus might be hiding. Prof Edagwa and his team then used the gene-editing tool (Crispr) to cut out the DNA fragments where HIV was still clinging.
He said, “The Crispr solution is given as an injection into a vein. Laser Art helps the Crispr to identify the proviral sections of the DNA and cut it out, meaning the virus has nowhere to attach.”
The new drug (cabotegravir drug or CAB) has been hailed as a huge milestone as far as removing the burden of taking pills every day is concerned. However, some note that the drug may take longer to reach Kenya and Africa.
The new medicine has been created by ViiV Healthcare, which is a pharmaceutical subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline that specializes in the development of therapies for HIV infection.
Globally, approximately 39.9 million people are living with HIV. The African region accounts for the largest number of these statistics – with approximately 25.7 million people living with HIV. It believes that the new CAB drug will go a long way in drastically reducing these numbers.