US scientists say they’re making progress on a single pill that could be taken just once a week to treat HIV.
The slow-release capsule could replace the daily medication currently needed by HIV-positive people to manage the virus, the researchers told the BBC.
The pill resembles a normal capsule but contains a special star-shaped structure with a whole week’s worth of antiretroviral medication that stays in the stomach and steadily releases the medication over the course of the week – essentially a “pillbox in a capsule”.
Researchers said they were motivated to develop the pill because HIV groups report some HIV-positive people have trouble taking their daily medication.
“We wanted to come up with a system to make it easier for patients to stick to taking their treatments,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Giovanni Traverso said.
“Changing a medication so it only needs to be taken once a week rather than once a day should be more convenient and improve compliance.”
As well as treating HIV, the once-weekly pill could also potentially dispense PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medication in people who are HIV negative but at high risk of transmission.
“Once-a-month formulations might even be possible for some diseases,” Traverso said.
“There are lots of patients this could help, including people with dementia or mental health disorders such as schizophrenia.”
A spokesperson from the UK HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust told the BBC taking a pill each day “does present practical barriers for some people living with HIV.”
“We welcome the prospect of a treatment that removes these barriers, and presents all people living with HIV with further choice, provided that it is no less effective than current options available,” the spokesperson said.
The pill is still in the early stages of development but researchers said they’d seen promising results in animal trials.
General human trials of the slow-release pills are planned within the next 12 months.