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Bill and Melinda Gates invest $140million in PrEP pump device to protect people from HIV infection

The device is inserted beneath the skin to deliver a daily dose of drugs for 6-12 month periods

Bill and Melinda Gates invest $140million in PrEP pump device
Intarcia – Intarcia’s Medici Drug Delivery System is inserted beneath the skin

A Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company has announced that it has secured $206million in equity funding to help it develop a subcutaneous device to deliver a daily dose of PrEP.

PrEP is a daily dose of anti-retroviral medicine to help prevent the user becoming infected with HIV. Those currently on PrEP have to take a tablet each day.

Boston’s Intarcia Therapeutics has developed the Medici Drug Delivery System: a matchstick-sized implant that is inserted beneath the skin and delivers a small, daily dose of medication.

Intarcia’s carrying out research to see how the device – a mini-osmotic pump – can be used to treat chronic illnesses. Top of its list is Type II diabetes and HIV.

In its latest funding announcement, it says $140million is coming from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This will comprise of $50million in investment, followed by $90million in milestone-based grants related to the HIV prophylactic program.

The Foundation, set up by the billionaire tech entrepreneur and his wife, works to eliminate preventable diseases among some of the world’s poorest societies. This includes HIV in Africa and other parts of the world.

Its stated goal is: ‘to accelerate the decline in HIV infection worldwide and save lives by ensuring expanded and simplified HIV treatment and improved and effective use of interventions to prevent new infections.’

‘A world of difference’

Intarcia says it is hoping to introduce its Medici device for patients suffering from Type II diabetes at some stage this year. Now, with the financial backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it will further develop the system to deliver PrEP.

‘Over the last five years we have successfully brought to life the vision and promise of our disruptive Medici technology platform, and an expanding pipeline of novel therapeutics,’ said Kurt Graves, Chairman, President and CEO of Intarcia Therapeutics, Inc, in a statement.

‘With Medici, and each of our new once- or twice-yearly therapies, we’re aiming to solve some of the biggest unmet needs in the treatment and prevention of major chronic diseases that impact millions and millions of lives every day.

‘With our new strategic initiative in HIV prevention, we are also tremendously excited and humbled to work with an incredible organization as smart, forward-looking and purpose-based as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.’

Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, ‘There’s a vital need for an HIV/AIDS intervention that allows those at risk to incorporate prevention more easily into their daily lives.

‘We feel optimistic about our partnership with Intarcia and the prospect of an implantable prophylactic device that could make a world of difference for people most in need.’

It’s not known when Intarcia hopes to bring the PrEP pump to market but Wall Street Journal suggests it would be rolled out in the US first.

In many parts of the world, HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men.

The latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics found that there were 39,513 new HIV diagnoses in the US in 2015. Of these, 26,375 were through male-to-male sexual contact.

‘A significant step forward’

News of the investment has been welcomed by sexual health advocates.

Kelsey Louie, CEO of New York-based GMHC, said, ‘This is an exciting development in the fight to end HIV and AIDS.

‘At GMHC, we are consistently working to increase access and use of important tools like PrEP and PEP, which in recent years have played key roles in our efforts to end the epidemic by 2020. Prevention is critical to reducing infection rates and we look forward to additional details and progress on this new device.’

Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM, said, ‘The data we have shows that PrEP is extremely effective at preventing HIV. In studies the success rate varies depending on people’s ability to be adherent to the drugs.

‘Technologies, such as the mini-pump or long-term injectables, that make it easier to maintain sufficient levels of the required drugs in the body to prevent transmission are very welcome.

‘For gay and bisexual men who want PrEP but are concerned about their ability to remember to take it regularly, this could be a significant step forward.’

 

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