Researchers pioneer world’s first HIV/AIDS nanomedicines

Smaller doses may reduce drug side-effects and risk of drug resistance; still several years away from approval
September 3, 2012

TEM image of drug nanoparticles (credit: Rannard Group, University of Liverpool)

Scientists at the University of Liverpool are leading a £1.65 million project to produce and test the first nanomedicines for treating HIV/AIDS.

The research project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to produce cheaper, more effective medicines that have fewer side effects and are easier to give to newborns and children.

The new therapy options were generated by modifying existing HIV treatments, called antiretrovirals (ARVs). The University has recently produced ARV drug particles at the nanoscale which potentially reduce the toxicity and variability in the response that different patients have to therapies.

Drug nanoparticles have been shown to allow smaller doses in other disease areas, meaning reduced drug side-effects and reduced risk of drug resistance. Nanoscale objects are less than one micron in size — a human hair is approximately 80 microns in diameter.

“If we can demonstrate real potential from our planned clinical work with healthy volunteers at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, then our collaboration partner, IOTA NanoSolutions, will take forward the further development and clinical validation of the ARV drug particles in HIV patients,” said Professor Steve Rannard, from the University’s Department of Chemistry. “We also aim to test new formulations for children in developing countries, offering HIV patients around the world the prospect of safer, more effective treatments.”

HIV continues to increase in prevalence, with 34 million people currently infected worldwide.  The new HIV therapies offer particular hope for treating children with HIV which affects 3.4 million children under the age of 15 years in Sub Saharan Africa. About 90% of infected infants acquire the virus through mother-to-child transmission.  Without treatment one third of children die within their first year of life.

There are currently very limited child-appropriate HIV drugs available and existing treatments carry a range of risks for the infant including under or over dosing. The new HIV nanomedicines from the Liverpool team disperse into water, which will make them easier to administer, particularly to newborn babies.

The project aims to deliver highly valuable data within three years and provide a platform for continual development and testing during that time.

The project builds on a previous collaboration funded by the Research Councils UK Nano Grand Challenge scheme.