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Utah Scientists Developing Injectable Drug for Prevention, Treatment

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Scientists at the University of Utah have developed an injectable HIV prevention and treatment drug that will soon be in human trials after showing good results in macaque monkeys.

The drug, called CPT31, “blocks HIV from entering cells to either prevent an infection or to treat an existing infection and keep it from spreading within a patient’s body,” Salt Lake City’s Deseret News reports. It derives from a recently discovered compound known as a D-peptide, which is similar to a peptide that occurs naturally in the human body.

“It’s exciting because it works differently than any of the other drugs that are commonly used to treat HIV, and so it would be helpful for patients who have drug-resistant HIV, which is a common problem with the existing drugs,” Michael Kay, a professor at the university, told the Deseret News.

He is also senior author of a study on the drug, which university researchers led in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and Navigen, a pharmaceutical company based in Salt Lake City.

The drug targets a part of HIV that changes little as the virus mutates, so it would be applicable to multiple strains, said Kay’s colleague Sarah Apple, a postdoctoral fellow at the university.

The scientists say it could be used alone for HIV prevention and with other drugs for treatment, and it could eliminate daily pill dosage. “We’re envisioning that this might be a suitable component as an injectable cocktail that patients could get every month, maybe even every three months or even less frequent,” Kay said.

Because it’s a chemical product, it would also be less costly than antibody-based treatments that are under development.

In the macaque trials, it protected uninfected animals from acquiring a simian version of HIV after exposure. In monkeys that were already infected with the virus, it reduced their viral load significantly after 30 days.

The strategy of targeting a certain part of HIV could be applied to other viruses, the researchers said, and they’re experimenting with that now. “We’re really excited about applying those validated methods and technologies to a new virus like for COVID-19,” Kay said. “And what we think will be dramatically faster than the first time, with HIV.”

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