A US-based Kenyan is among top scientists who have unveiled the world’s first antiretroviral (ARV) drug to be taken once-a-year.

Prof. Benson Edagwa, University of Nebraska Medical Center-UNMC Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience, and Howard Gendelman, M.D., chairman and professor of the department, developed the world’s first potential yearlong antiretroviral (ARV) from the parent drug cabotegravir (CAB).

CAB is a potent HIV-1 drug that blocks the virus from inserting its genetic material into human cells. By chemically converting CAB into a nanocrystal and allowing the body’s own enzymes to slowly convert the modified drug into an active form, the drug can be slowly released from tissue stores.

“This occurs for extended time periods, and in laboratory and animal testing, up to a year,” said Prof.  Edagwa, who designed and produced the required modifications of the new prodrug.

A prodrug is a classification of pharmaceutical products where an inert compound is converted into an active form by the body.

“This pharmaceutical development has the potential to not only treat but also prevent viral transmission,” said Dr. Gendelman, who designed the pharmacological testing. “This may certainly be a therapeutic milestone,” he added.

The study describes what could function as a vaccine mimetic to protect the body against HIV infection for an extended time period.

“While viral vaccines and long-acting modified ARVs have very different modes of action, they can both function to protect against infection,” Dr. Gendelman said.

Prof. Edagwa and Gendelman have since credited a large team of scientists within the department of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience for work on the project, including instructor Aditya Bade, Ph.D., and graduate student Tanmay Kulkarni.

This breakthrough was reported on Monday in Nature Materials, a leading peer-reviewed biomedical research journal.

It now means people living with HIV will not have to take drugs daily, as has been the case. The new drug according to the scientists, could also act as a vaccine for healthy people who take it and have un protected sex, however, they are quick to add that it is not a cure for HIV/AIDs.

Prof. Benson Edagwa –

After completing his school studies at Mbale High School, Prof. Edagwa enrolled for an undergraduate degree in chemistry at Moi University, Chepkoilel Campus (currently University of Eldoret) in Kenya and later a Masters in chemistry from the same university.

As he was finalising his Masters’ coursework, one of his lecturers, Prof Samuel Lutta encouraged him to apply for a PhD programme abroad. That is how he ended up at Louisiana State University (LSU) in the United States.

Prof Edagwa has also won a number of honors among which are the ViiV Healthcare Distinguished Scientist (2016), UNeMed Research Innovation: New Invention Notifications, Patent Applications, UNeMed Corporation (2015), ViiV Healthcare Fellowship (2015), Young Investigator Fellowship (2014), and the GSK Fellowship, GlaxoSmithKline (2014).

Others are a Silver U Award, University of Nebraska Medical Center (2013), Teaching Assistant Scholar Award, Louisiana State University (2012), Kiran Allam International Award, Louisiana State University (2011) and the Dr. Charles Coates Travel Award, Louisiana State University (2010)


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