Earlier this week, Merck released the results of a small and early trial showing a prototype of a pin-sized implant could block HIV from infecting individuals for a full year.
Through an upper-arm implant, the same device used to administer certain birth controls, doctors will likely be able to deliver “meaningful doses” of an experimental anti-HIV drug, called islatravir, to patients in the future.
“We are encouraged by the results of this proof of concept study exploring the potential of delivering meaningful doses of islatravir over a 12-week period,” said Dr. Roy Baynes, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Merck Research Laboratories in a statement.
Islatravir is very potent, Dr. George Hanna, vice president of Global Clinical Development at Merck Research Laboratories, told USA TODAY. With it, doctors would likely be able to treat someone who already has HIV or prevent the infection of someone exposed to the virus.
Hanna said that the drug prevented a disease similar to HIV in animals. For humans, it is still in trial phases.
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Doctors would load the drug onto the implant and administer it to patients. The implant would provide enough of the drug to the body so that there are appropriate amounts of the drug in the patient’s bloodstream, Hanna said.
“Right now we are focusing the implant on prevention of HIV but the same implant can theoretically be explored for treatment as well in the future,” said Hanna.
Merck is planning future studies for HIV prevention and treatment with islatravir.
The study included 16 healthy adults who did not have HIV. Six received a low-dose implant, six received a higher dose implant and four received a placebo, according to Hanna.
“And what we found is that with both of the implants that had the drug in it, we achieved good levels during the three months that we evaluated the implant,” said Hanna.
Their next goal is to continue improving the implants until they have created what they feel are optimal implants before larger studies can happen.
The idea would be for patients to receive the implant to prevent infection and replace it yearly.
“So we’re very excited about that,” said Hanna. “We are now optimistic that we can create the implant that will deliver the drug for an entire year of prevention.”
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