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Gates Grant Funds HIV-Birth Control Implant

T-cell infected by HIV

T-cell infected by HIV (NIAID, Flickr)

9 Aug. 2021. A biotechnology company received a foundation grant for an implanted device to prevent HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy in women. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $1.3 million to Inflammasome Therapeutics in Newton, Massachusetts to develop the implant, its second grant to the company in two years.

Inflammasome Therapeutics creates therapies for degenerative diseases caused by aberrant inflammatory processes, such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, and type 2 diabetes. The company says these disorders result from overactive inflammatory responses traced to inflammasomes, protein systems that send chemical signals in the immune system triggering inflammation. Inflammasome Therapeutics develops Kamuvudines, a class of drugs that inhibit inflammasomes, based on research by Jayakrishna Ambati, professor of ophthalmology at University of Virginia, and the company’s scientific founder.

Inflammasome Therapeutics also works with sustained delivery technologies to deliver its treatments, which attracted the attention of the Gates Foundation. In September 2020, the foundation awarded Inflammasome Therapeutics $1 million to develop a device implanted under the skin to release the birth control drug levonorgestrel for 1.5 to 2 years. After dispensing the drug, the device — about half the size of current levonorgestrel implants — erodes and dissolves in the body. That grant supports development of test devices and preclinical research.

Block replication of HIV genome

The new award funds research on a small implanted device that dispenses drugs to prevent HIV infection as well as unwanted pregnancies. The implant, says the company, will contain the drug islatravir, a type of HIV drug called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, or NRTIs, that block replication of the HIV viral genome. NRTIs are also inflammasome inhibitors. Islatravir is in a late-stage clinical trial by drug maker Merck as an oral preventive HIV medication.

The new Inflammasome Therapeutics implant will also contain levonorgestrel to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And like the first implant, the new device is designed to erode naturally and dissolve in the body after a year. As a result, recipients of the implant will not need to return to a clinic to remove the implant, an advantage particularly in low-resource regions where medical facilities are limited.

The company cites data from the Kaiser Family Foundation that women age 15 to 49 represent more than half of adults (55%) living with HIV worldwide, with HIV and complications from pregnancy now the leading cause of death in women of reproductive age. In addition, some 25.6 million people are now living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.

Paul Ashton, CEO and co-founder of Inflammasome Therapeutics, says in a company statement released through BusinessWire, “There is also the potential to use our technology to develop an implant specifically to prevent HIV infection.” He notes that the company’s technology can be applied to other small molecule drugs requiring consistent dosing over extended periods of time.

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