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Drugs patch trialled at Queen’s could help to reduce HIV rates

By Staff Reporter

Queen’s University has announced a pioneering new drug delivery system that has the potential to reduce HIV rates.

The university is playing a central role in an international consortium that has revealed the development of a patch delivery system which will lower the chances of infection for those at very high risk of HIV.

HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis — better known as PrEP — is when people at very high risk of HIV take medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected.

PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout the body.

Queen’s and its collaborators will combine their expertise to develop a novel ‘microarray’ patch for HIV PrEP in preparation for future clinical trials. 

The consortium has been granted more than $10m (£7m)by USAID for their research. 

USAID is a US Government agency that provides backing for cost-effective and sustainable HIV/AIDS research. The collaborators will work with women and healthcare workers in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda to design a patch that meets their needs.

Microarray patches are a discreet, easy-to-use technology that contain tiny projections that painlessly penetrate the top layer of skin to deliver a drug. 

The novel high-dose patches have been pioneered at Queen’s.

They contain large amounts of HIV medications in the form of microscopic solid particles.

When the projections dissolve in skin, the tiny particles release the medication over time. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that 1.8 million people became infected with HIV in 2016, with the majority of infections occurring in young women in sub-Saharan Africa.

Daily use of oral HIV PrEP can help reduce the risk of infection, but this can be challenging.

A delivery mechanism that enables self-administration of a long-acting PrEP — with the potential to protect users for weeks or months at a time — could increase consistent usage for at-risk women and others.

Professor Ryan Donnelly, from the School of Pharmacy, who is leading the work for Queen’s, said: “This exciting project is very much in line with the research ethos of the university, which is centred on global challenges. HIV remains a global health emergency.

“By developing a risk-free delivery system that could help prevent HIV transmission, our partnership stands to change the lives of people across the world, especially those in the world’s poorest countries.”

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