Expanding HIV Prevention

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that new HIV infections in this country have declined by more than two-thirds since the epidemic’s height in the 1980s. In stark contrast, a 2015 study in The Lancet HIV stated that cases of the AIDS causing virus increased in South Africa and 73 other countries that year.

“HIV continues to be a big problem in the developing world,” says Jeffrey Karp, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Accelerated Medical Innovation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Very effective drugs exist to prevent HIV transmission, but getting them to patients—and making sure they adhere to the treatment regimen—is a challenge.”

To overcome this problem, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—which has supported multiple BWH scientists over the years—recently gave a $1.2 million award to further Karp’s work in HIV treatment. The grant enables Karp and his team to work on their new proprietary drug delivery technology that uses an injectable gel to release an HIV-prevention drug in the bloodstream over time.

“Instead of taking a pill every day, patients would need a simple injection, perhaps every few months or twice a year,” explains Karp, who is leading the project along with collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Many gels exist, but ours can entrap almost any type of drug, retaining in this material for many months,” Karp adds. “This gel also has a long shelf life—a very important factor for access in developing countries.”

This project builds on Karp’s expertise in creating new methods of drug delivery—including adhesives, gels, and digestible devices. His two-year Gates Foundation grant targets people in sub-Saharan Africa at high risk for contracting HIV.

“One of our goals at the Gates Foundation is to bring down the rate of HIV infection worldwide by expanding and simplifying treatment and prevention methods,” says Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, the foundation’s chief executive officer. “Dr. Karp’s innovations play a critical role in this important effort.”