Kenyan Scientist Unveils World’s First Anti-HIV Drug Taken Once a Year

File image of tablets

File image of tablets.

A team led by Professor Benjamin Edagwa, a Kenyan scientist based at the University of Nebraska’s Medical Centre in the United States, has developed the world’s first anti-retroviral (ARV) drug to be taken only once a year.

The drug was created as a means to protect against HIV infection and can be taken by people already infected or those at risk of acquiring the virus.

At the moment, HIV patients must take medicine daily, but if clinical studies confirm that the new drug is safe for use, they would be able to receive an injectable medicine once every year, serving the same purpose of protecting their immune systems from the virus.

A report on the new drug was published in the peer-reviewed biomedical research journal Nature Materials on Monday, April 27.

File image of US-based Kenyan scientist Prof. Benson Edagwa
File image of US-based Kenyan scientist Prof. Benson Edagwa

The University of Nebraska Medical Centre (UNMC) disclosed that it had begun pursuing approvals from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to facilitate mass production of the drug.

To develop the drug, Edagwa alongside his colleagues modified an existing ARV drug known as Cabrotegravir (CAB) to allow the body to absorb it and release it slowly from tissues over a twelve-month period.

“This pharmaceutical development has the potential to not only treat but also prevent viral transmission. This may certainly be a therapeutic milestone.

“While viral vaccines and long-acting modified ARVs have very different modes of action, they can both function to protect against infection,” stated Howard Gendelman, Professor and Chairman of the UNMC Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience as he hailed the breakthrough.

Edagwa hails from Vihiga County in Kenya and studied Chemistry at Moi University before moving to the United States.

On this particular project, he led a large team of scientists and researchers that included Gendelman, Aditya Bade, Ph.D., and graduate student Tanmay Kulkarni.

The University of Nebraska noted that no adverse side effects had been observed in animal testing for the drug, having so far been tested on mice and non-human primates.

Helping Edagwa’s team work on the transition from animal to human testing, are scientists from the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI); Paul L. DomanicoTai-Yuen Yue and Gary Moore, identified as co-authors of the paper by Nature Materials.

It could, however, take several years before the drug hits the shelves at your local health facility due to stringent approval processes.

While existing ARVs allow patients to live their lives with minimal complications and avoid transmission to partners, the risk of missing a daily treatment cannot be overstated as it can cause the virus to rebound, leading to other associated complications.

If Edagwa’s drug is approved, it would entirely revolutionise the management of HIV infection and prevention.

File image of US-based Kenyan scientist Prof. Benson Edagwa
File image of US-based Kenyan scientist Prof. Benson Edagwa
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