Northwestern bags $17.5M from NIH to develop implant for delivery of drugs that prevent HIV

Northwestern University announced that it has received a five-year, $17.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study an implantable drug delivery system for the prevention of HIV. It's the latest application of drug delivery to solve the classic medical problem of nonadherence by developing a device that releases medication in a continuous and controlled manner, this time, the hope is, for up to one year.

The Northwestern team wants the device to deliver antiretroviral drugs and is especially interested in one called cabotegravir. Northwestern points out that prevention via condoms also suffers from noncompliance, as does abstinence.

"Long-acting systems have the great advantage of not requiring repeated modification of behavior," Northwestern biomedical engineering professor Patrick Kiser said in a university news release. "With implants or injectable systems that deliver antiretroviral drugs, a person no longer has to worry about contracting HIV for a relatively long period of time."

The Sustained Long-Acting Protection Against HIV program, funded by the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will feature contributions from 15 departments at Northwestern's medical, engineering and business schools.

Other participating schools include Johns Hopkins University, Tulane University, Eastern Virginia Medical School, University of Chicago, University of Utah, Columbia University, Case Western Reserve University, University of North Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Technology like this could be an important tool in fighting the global HIV/AIDS pandemic in the U.S. and in low-income countries," Kiser said in the news release.

Implantable devices like Actavis' Liletta are already being used as alternatives to condoms and pills for contraception, though Bayer's Essure has proven controversial due to complaints of clinical trial fraud and serious side effects.

And in June, Microchips Biotech partnered with Teva ($TEVA) to apply the company's electronic drug delivery implant for administration over months to years toward at least one disease area. Its microchip-based implant comprises hundreds of tiny airtight reservoirs, each of which can store 1 milligram of medication. Each reservoir is sealed with a titanium and platinum seal, which melts temporarily when hit with a wirelessly transmitted electrical current, allowing the release of the drug.

The Northwestern grant isn't the NIH's first to investigate the use of continuous drug delivering implants in the HIV arena. In September the agency devoted $20 million to a group of institutions, including Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island, to develop an HIV drug-delivering intravaginal ring. The ring can deliver antiretrovirals for at least a month, according to the hospital, and the manufacturing process allows inexpensive production, which can help keep developing countries stocked up.

- read the Northwestern article