Team aims to ease HIV therapy to once-a-week injections

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Team aims to ease HIV therapy to once-a-week injections

Daily oral pill regimen poses challenges; weekly shot also may better combat residual virus
Sarah C.B. Guthrie

Two University of Washington faculty aim to develop an injectable HIV therapy that can be administered once a week, easing the regimen of daily pills that HIV-positive people must manage now.

Dr. Rodney Ho of the School of Pharmacy and Dr. Ann Collier of the School of Medicine received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop anti-retroviral treatments that overcome limitations of current oral drug therapies.

“This was the only HIV treatment program to receive NIH funding for this specific purpose,” Ho noted. 

Dr. Ann Collier, a professor of medicine, directsUW's AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.
picture of Dr. Ann Collier of the University of Washington

Drug-combination therapies have enabled HIV-positive patients to live significantly longer and enjoy better life quality than was the case decades ago, but doing so involves taking several drugs one or more times a day, in perpetuity.

This oral pill regimen can be difficult for anyone to follow; a 2004 study showed that while over 80 percent of HIV patients take their medications as prescribed, two-thirds of older patients who missed a dose said they “simply forgot.”  Daily or several-times-daily regimens are even harder for HIV patients who are homeless or hospitalized or who have trouble swallowing pills. 

If a patient’s adherence is poor, HIV can develop resistance to antiretroviral drugs and hasten progression to AIDS. Poor adherence often necessitates higher drug levels or a different combination of drugs.

For these populations, going to a clinic for a weekly shot could be easier to adhere to. Better adherence, health care providers know, creates a better likelihood that a patient’s cells are as strong as they can be to stave off viral activity. 

What’s more, Ho said, the new injectable nano-drug may advantageously enable physicians to direct the drugs into lymphoid tissue and better address drug sufficiency in those tissues and possibly even eliminate residual virus. 

It’s expected that seven-day dosages will provide comparable blood levels to that of current oral therapies that are given daily or multiple times a day.

“We started out very early on in the battle against HIV/AIDS to find a treatment or a vaccine, but it continued to elude us.  It is more than likely that a systems approach using innovative drug targeting to cells and tissues along with boosting of patients’ immune systems may lead to a cure,” Ho said. 

This research is supported by the NIH grants R01AI077390 and AI071971. Researchers are working with a five-year time line. The NIH award in the first year is about $3.5 million; subsequent funding, to total $14 million, is incumbent on the researchers continuing to achieve milestones.