Liverpool University team pioneers nanomedicines for HIV/AIDS

With £1.65m of funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK

Professor Steve Rannard of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Liverpool. Pic copyright: McCoy-Wynne

Scientists from the University of Liverpool are leading a £1.65m project to produce and test the first nanomedicines for HIV/AIDS.

The research project, funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), aims to produce cheaper, more effective medicines with fewer side effects, and which are easier to give to newborns and children.

The team generated the new therapy options by modifying existing antiretrovirals (ARVs). Liverpool University has recently produced ARV drug particles at the nanoscale, which potentially reduce the toxicity and variability in patients’ response to treatments. 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.

Professor Steve Rannard, from the University’s Department of Chemistry, said: ‘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 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, said an assessment of pharmacology and safety was integrated early in the research and this has allowed the team rapidly to progress lead options for clinical trials. The work was conducted with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Drug Safety Science, which is also based at the University.

Owen added: ‘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 currently infects 34 million people worldwide.

There are currently limited child-appropriate HIV drugs available and existing treatments carry a range of risks for infants. 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 under clinical grade manufacturing conditions.

IOTA NanoSolutions, a 2005 spinout from Unilever, was created to develop and exploit technology originally developed at the University of Liverpool. The company operates a novel nanoparticle synthesis technology called ContraSol and is working with major global pharmaceutical companies. The ARV programme extends the ongoing collaboration between the University and IOTA NanoSolutions.

Companies