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A new advancement in the treatment of HIV-infected patients could eliminate the need for daily doses of medication. The new drug, which will soon be ready to begin human trials, would only need to be taken once per week. It works on a slow-release concept that allows patients more freedom from maintaining a daily medication schedule.

While the dose comes in a capsule, it’s much more advanced than it appears. Once swallowed, the capsule travels to the stomach, where acids eat away the protective coating. A 4cm (1.5in)structure, shaped like a star, unfolds and remains in the stomach for a 7-day period. This allows the device to slowly release the drugs according to the treatment plan.

The researchers working on the project say they want more time to test the device on animals, suggesting that the next testing phase will involve using monkeys. The team expects to begin human testing within two years. This comes as good new to experts in HIV research, because a single pill treatment option was believed to still be a far-off prospect.

While intact, the star-shaped device is too large to move out of the stomach, ensuring it will remain in place until the medication has been dispensed. Once it has completed delivering the payload, the object will disintegrate until it’s small enough to pass through the digestive tract. Researchers are hopeful that the device can be used to administer delayed dosages of other medications in addition to HIV treatments.

Testing the Slow-Delivery Process
Previous tests have been conducted on pigs with malaria. Ivermectin, which is a treatment for the disease, was placed in the object, which remained in the pigs’ stomachs for a two week period. Giovanni Traverso from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital is heading up the project. He says the goal was to create a delivery system that helps patients maintain a proper medication schedule without having to worry about missing doses.
“Changing a medication so it only needs to be taken once a week rather than once a day should be more convenient and improve compliance,” said Dr. Traverso. “Once-a-month formulations might even be possible for some diseases.”

While Dr. Traverso is hopeful that the invention can help anyone committed to a long-term medication plan, there are skeptics voicing their concerns. A statement made by a British HIV Association spokesman pointed out that pig testing is several steps removed from human trials.

Meanwhile, a Terrence Higgins Trust associate pointed to the nature of HIV treatment as problematic for HIV patients. He welcomed any option that might alleviate the complication for patients confined to a daily regimen of drug treatments. He was hopeful that this new capsule could provide more freedom to HIV sufferers.

The research project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.