Nano-medicine shrinks the cost of HIV treatment (podcast)

Professor Steve Rannard is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Liverpool. Professor Andrew Owen is a Professor of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of the Liverpool. Together they have been attempting to develop a new nano-medicine for HIV patients.
During their appearance on the University of Liverpool Podcast, here are six insights we learned about their pioneering work and its potential consequences for the future of HIV treatments worldwide.


6 insights into the potential future of HIV treatment

  1. Medicines need to be small…
    A typical flea is one millimetre in length. Each millimetre is equivalent to 1,000 microns. The average human hair is about 100 microns. But you’ve got to go even smaller for the medicines Steve and Andrew are developing. “If you take a single micron and divide it by 1,000,” says Steve, “then you get down into the nanometre range. The HIV virus, for example, is about 100 nanometres. And typically the nano-medicines we work with are in the 100-500 nanometres scale.”
  2. … but not too small
    Between the gut side of the intestine and the bloodstream is a range of ‘drug-transporter molecules’. For drugs that are particularly small, these molecules keep the drug inside the intestine and stop it from being absorbed into the body. Bigger drugs, however, such as those in the nanometre range, are too large for these molecules to block. “We think that avoiding these little ‘goalkeepers’ in the gut is one mechanism by which we can improve the absorption of the drug into the blood stream,” says Andrew.
  3. The side-effects and costs of HIV treatment could be significantly reduced
    Nano-medicines are more effective at getting medicines into the bloodstream. So Steve and Andrew’s work could lead to patients receiving the necessary amount of drugs from a much smaller dose. “We have the potential to decrease the dose by up to 50%,” says Steve. The consequences of this are two-fold: lower doses mean lower side effects, which largely come from unabsorbed drugs passing through the GI tract; it also means lower therapy costs. “That becomes very, very important when you consider where the burden of HIV is,” says Steve.
  4. Other health benefits could have a big impact on children with HIV
    Current drug formulations for children with HIV contain very high doses of alcohol. “It’s sometimes up to 40% ethanol solutions to adequately deliver that drug to a child,” says Andrew. “So you can imagine a situation where very high alcohol content is given to very, very young children.” Current paediatric treatment see children ingest the equivalent of one or two teaspoons of whisky or vodka every day. But Andrew and Steve’s work could eradicate that at a stroke.
  5. Old technology could be completely reinvented
    A key aspect of the pair’s work is driving down the costs associated with therapy in countries which, says Andrew, “can scarcely afford to treat patients.” So they’ve used existing industrial processes and technologies to enable the manufacture of new drugs without the need for huge investment in new machinery. “It’s the same technology that’s used for making laundry powder,” says Steve.
  6. Daily HIV medicines could be consigned to history
    Existing HIV medicines require a patient to stick to a demanding daily drug regimen. But that could soon change. “These nano-particles of drug can be injected into the muscle,” says Andrew. The drug is then gradually released into the bloodstream over a period of one to three months. Andrew believes this could lead to the eventual of administration of HIV medicines once quarterly (or perhaps even longer), reducing the day-to-day burden on patients and healthcare professionals around the world.

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