Northwestern receives $17.5 million research grant for HIV prevention program

Peter Kotecki, Reporter

Northwestern Medicine scientists have received a $17.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to use over the next five years for the development of an implantable drug delivery system to protect high-risk individuals from HIV infection.

The interdisciplinary project, funded as part of the Sustained Long-Acting Protection Against HIV program, is underwritten by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The project will bring together 15 scientists and clinical investigators from the Feinberg School of Medicine, the McCormick School of Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management.

Although sexual transmission of HIV can currently be prevented by abstinence, taking antiretroviral drugs daily and using condoms, adherence to these strategies is low. The drug delivery system would protect treated individuals from the virus for up to one year at a time.

“Long-acting systems have the great advantage of not requiring repeated modification of behavior,” Patrick Kiser, associate professor in obstetrics and gynecology at Feinberg and biomedical engineering at McCormick, said in a 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.”

Kiser and Thomas Hope, a professor in cell and molecular biology, biomedical engineering, and obstetrics and gynecology at NU, will be the principal investigators of the project, which includes participants from nine other universities. Kiser and Hope will spend the first year working to invent an implant that delivers antiretroviral drugs in a controlled way.

The two professors are especially interested in a drug called cabotegravir that stops HIV from integrating itself into a host’s genetic material.

“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.

Hope said the technology could allow scientists to protect high-risk individuals until a vaccine is developed.

Scientists from other participating universities will focus on testing two more drug delivery platforms, after which project investigators will choose the best platform and pursue it further.

“The funding of this project represents a new era in HIV prevention research at Northwestern and places our team at the cutting edge in both basic science and clinical development of HIV prevention and treatment technologies,” Kiser said.

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