Researchers pioneer world's first HIV/AIDS nanomedicines

August 29, 2012

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 which 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 different patients have to therapies. Drug nanoparticles have been shown to allow smaller doses in other disease areas which opens up possibilities to reduce drug side-effects and the risk of drug resistance. Nanoscale objects are less than one micron in size - a human hair is approximately 80 microns in diameter.

Professor Steve Rannard, from the University's Department of Chemistry, said: "Nanomedicines are being used daily to treat a range of conditions around the world. There are, however, no current nanoparticle HIV therapies that are providing this kind of patient benefit. This project is the first step towards taking the nanomedicine options that we have developed out of our labs and into the clinic, representing a significant milestone in the development of new HIV treatments.

"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. 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."

Professor Andrew Owen, from the University's Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, added: "We have integrated an assessment of pharmacology and safety early in the research and this has allowed us to rapidly progress lead options for clinical trials. The work has been conducted with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Drug Safety Science also based at the University."

"Our data so far looks really exciting, offering the potential to reduce the doses required to control the HIV virus. This work builds on initiatives by Médecins Sans Frontières and other groups to seek ways to improve ARV therapy and could have real benefits for the safety of ARVs globally. Importantly we also hope to reduce the costs of therapy for resource-limited countries where the burden of disease is highest."

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 will manufacture the ARV nanomedicines using commercially relevant techniques under clinical grade manufacturing conditions. IOTA NanoSolutions was created to further develop and exploit technology originally developed at the University of Liverpool. The company operates a novel nanoparticle synthesis technology, ContraSol™ and is working with major global pharmaceutical companies. The ARV programme represents a further extension to the ongoing collaboration between the University of Liverpool and IOTA NanoSolutions.

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

David Delpy, Chief Executive of the EPSRC, said: "The EPSRC is continuing its strong investment in nano-related research, which now permeates through almost every aspect of the engineering and physical sciences. This research may bring significant benefits to children infected with the HIV virus.

"It demonstrates how the vast potential of the fundamental science of nanotechnology is now being pulled through into engineering applications that help us address the societal challenges we face in healthcare and other areas."

The project builds on a previous collaboration funded by the Research Councils UK Nano Grand Challenge scheme.
-end-
Notes to editors:

1. The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions with an annual turnover of £410 million, including £150 million for research. Liverpool is ranked in the top 1% of higher education institutions worldwide and is a member of the Russell Group.

2. IOTA NanoSolutions Limited was registered as a spin-out company from Unilever in 2005 with funding from Unilever Ventures and a mission to develop and commercially exploit its novel proprietary nanodispersion technology, ContraSol™. ContraSol™ offers opportunities to enhance performance of marketed drugs, NCEs and drug candidates currently in development and to revive promising discovery compounds previously overlooked owing to aqueous solubility. The company was co-founded by Prof. Steve Rannard, Dr. Alison Foster, Dr. Dave Duncalf and Prof. Andy Cooper. Since 2005, IOTA NanoSolutions occupies a suite of purpose-built laboratories in the MerseyBIO incubator in Liverpool, UK, from where it serves its growing portfolio of international clients.

3. "Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is an independent international humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency medical aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters or exclusion from health care in more than 60 countries around the world."

4. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk. For more information about the Nanotechnology Grand Challenges in healthcare visit: http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/funding/calls/2008/Pages/challenges.aspx

University of Liverpool

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