BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

August 27, 2018

Research Roundup: Long-acting HIV drugs, a universal flu vaccine candidate, and a low-cost device in the fight against malaria

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Wendy Stone

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A large-scale study has shown that monthly injections of two long-acting HIV drugs are just as effective as taking daily pills. The phase III study, led by ViiV Healthcare—a London-based collaboration between GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer—tested an experimental drug, cabotegravir, and rilpivirine in 618 HIV-infected people from 13 different countries over a 48 week period. It found HIV viral suppression levels were the same in both individuals taking daily pills and individuals receiving a monthly injection of each drug. Long-acting HIV medications have the potential to transform the way HIV is both treated and prevented, offering an alternative option for people who find it challenging to adhere to taking daily pills. It is possible ViiV could apply for regulatory approval for these drugs as early as next year.

The world could be one step closer to a universal flu vaccine, according to a study out of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Researchers there have developed a flu vaccine candidate that was found to elicit a strong antibody response to a structure on the surface of flu viruses, called the hemagglutinin (HA) stalk and protect mice from infection of various flu strains. The HA stalk has been a target for universal flu vaccines as it does not vary from one flu subtype to another, unlike seasonal flu vaccines that target the “head” region of the HA protein which tends to mutate rapidly and varies by flu type. The experiment was repeated successfully in ferrets and rabbits. The scientists’ next step is to test the vaccine in non-human primates and then humans.

A group of students at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda have invented a low-cost, reusable device to detect malaria quickly without drawing blood. Deemed a “game changer” by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which recently honored the product’s research team with its Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the simple device, called Matibabu, uses magnets and a matiscope to detect the deadly disease. A matiscope is a custom-made device that shines a red beam of light on to a user’s finger to detect whether a substance known as haemozoin crystals, a by-product of the malaria parasite, is present. The latest prototype of the device only requires two minutes to detect malaria, as opposed to 30 minutes or more when using a microscope. Since no blood is drawn, the device has the potential to be administered by non-specialists at the community level. The inventors of the device still have a few hurdles to overcome. For example, the current model only detects 80 percent of malaria cases, which misses the mark of the international norm of 99 percent. With supplemental funding, the developers hope to further refine the device and bring it to market within two years.

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