30 January 2020 | Statements

Unitaid invests in long-acting medicines to simplify treatment and prevention for HIV, TB, malaria and HCV

Geneva – Unitaid will invest US$ 39 million in two projects to speed up the development of long-acting versions of medicines for low- and middle-income countries. Innovative ways to administer drugs, which have revolutionized contraception and the treatment of schizophrenia, could redefine prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, but remain at early stages of research because of market barriers.

Unitaid today signed a US$ 32 million grant with the University of Liverpool and a US$ 6.9 million grant with the University of Washington to help develop and commercialize long-acting medicines for HIV, TB, malaria and hepatitis C (HCV).  Unitaid has invested heavily in creating better, more affordable medicines and making them accessible; the new investments build on that work by making more efficient ways for patients to take them.

“We see an enormous potential in this technology for changing people’s lives,” Unitaid Deputy Executive Director Philippe Duneton said.

University of Washington’s four-year GLAD project will transform combination HIV pill regimens that contain the drug dolutegravir into an injectable that lasts from one to three months. The goal is to develop an effective, long-acting alternative to the daily pill that is now the standard of care.

“We are excited that the GLAD project is in a position to contribute to making the best available HIV combination medicine long-lasting, and to work toward worldwide access,” said Professor Rodney Ho, director of the Targeted, Long-acting and Combination Antiretroviral Program at the University of Washington. “Through the partnership and support of Unitaid, our innovations in targeted drug-combination technology could be leveraged to make a global impact on long-lasting HIV treatment and prevention.”

University of Liverpool’s five-year LONGEVITY project will develop long-acting formulations of drugs for malaria and TB prevention, and a cure for HCV. As part of the project, partners will create a Centre of Excellence in Long-Acting Therapeutics with a laboratory dedicated to product development. Johns Hopkins University, Clinton Health Access Initiative, University of Nebraska, Treatment Action Group and Tandem Nano Ltd. will participate in the project.

“My feeling is that we are witnessing a change in the paradigm for treatment of chronic diseases, but also semi-chronic disease,” said Andrew Owen, professor of pharmacology at the University of Liverpool, where the LONGEVITY project will take place. Owen gave the example of how a long-acting formulation could work for malaria prevention: “The hope is that the medicines will enable entire villages across high-burden countries to be effectively protected from acquiring malaria for the entire duration of the rainy season. We also hope huge benefits will be available for TB prevention and HCV therapy, focusing on high-risk groups across low- and middle-income countries.”

Safe and effective daily oral medicines are available to prevent and treat major diseases, but when they are not taken consistently, treatments fail and illness spreads. Poor adherence can also allow drug-resistant microbes to develop. Long-acting technologies offer a simpler way of administering medicines that frees patients from daily pills, makes it easier for them to start and stay on treatment, and reduces the burden on health systems. In places where certain diseases are stigmatized, long-acting medicines can provide people with a more discreet treatment.

The long-acting medicines projects complement other Unitaid work to expand access to much-needed drugs and diagnostics. The Unitaid-funded Medicines Patent Pool will work to ensure that formulations developed by GLAD and LONGEVITY will be accessible where they are needed.

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