Unitaid Funded Long-Acting Medicines Centre At University Of Liverpool To Shape The Future of Treatment
Center of Excellence for Long-acting Therapeutics launched at the University of Liverpool
Center of Excellence for Long-acting Therapeutics launched at the University of Liverpool

A US$40 million research consortium has been created to repurpose existing medicines for hepatitis, tuberculosis and malaria into long-acting treatments that can benefit low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where people often have trouble accessing medicine over and over again, Unitaid experts told Health Policy Watch.

The consortium on Tuesday launched the new Centre of Excellence for Long-acting Therapeutics (CELT) at the University of Liverpool, as a first of its kind research center in the world.

Unitaid, a global WHO-hosted partnership of private and public sector actors, is engaged in finding innovative solutions to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently in LMICs, was the major funder of the cutting-edge Centre and research consortium.

Initially research will focus on developing three long-acting products as part of the Unitaid-funded LONGEVITY project – a single-injection cure for hepatitis C over a treatment period of 12-weeks, and tuberculosis and malaria preventative treatment through one-dose injectables.

“If you can replace [multiple doses] with one single shot injectable that can last for the whole malaria season, you are logistically gaining a lot. [Medicine] will be less costly to distribute, and it is more certain that people will receive treatment because they no longer need to come back [for additional treatment],” said Carmen Perez Casas, Senior Technical Manager at Unitaid, adding that the aim is to cover an individual for an entire malaria season with one injection – making medication cheaper to deliver and easier to use.  

Unitaid-funded CELT is currently working on a malaria injectable that could last a whole malaria season.
Unitaid-funded CELT is currently working on a malaria injectable that could last a whole malaria season.

“We are working to shape the market to ensure that any of the emerging long-acting technologies – whether for HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, are affordable and manufactured in sufficient volumes.” 

Long-acting technology allows the release of medication to be manipulated, with sufficient concentration of the drug to last long periods of time – for months to a year, or even longer. There are various types of long-acting technologies, including implants, oral medicines that dissolve over a period of time, and injectables.

Diverse health fields, from reproductive and mental health have already benefited and continue to benefit from long-acting technology. Patients with schizophrenia and other psychoses who have difficulty accessing therapy and treatment can use long-acting injectables to replace the daily pill. 

“One-fifth of [schizophrenia] patients will have relapses and be admitted into hospitals for emergencies. They can now be stable because of continuous intake,” said Perez Casas. 

Long-Acting Technology: Ease of Access Leads to Increased Uptake of Medicines in LMICs
Long-acting technology eases the complication of difficult and strict dose regimens for oral medication
Long-acting technology eases the complication of difficult and strict dose regimens for oral medication

Perez Casas addressed the complications that exist with traditional oral medications. These medications do not properly tackle chronic diseases or treatments that adhere to a strict dosage regimens. There is also the stigma associated with taking a pill every day, she said. 

Such complications make prevention campaigns difficult to organize in LMICs, given the multiple doses required of certain medicines and the necessary accessibility to healthcare facilities. 

Long-acting technology eases the stigma and increases the uptake and efficacy of the drug, giving it the potential to be applied to other diseases, especially those common in LMICs, by reaching more people with long-acting medications as opposed to oral daily treatments. 

For instance, HIV prevention through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) typically can only be done through an oral pill, but the efficiency of long-acting PrEP can aid in preventing HIV through increased uptake over a longer period of time. 

Though the research will be conducted primarily at laboratories at the University of Liverpool, there is continual multi-partner collaboration between scientists and global stakeholders, all working with affected communities in mind.

Long-Acting Treatments Are Particularly Suitable To Pandemic Context 

The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis in terms of continuity of treatment through the dependence of health systems and supplies. With CELT, Unitaid is working to urgently address affected treatment and chain of supply issues for those in LMICs impacted by COVID-19. 

Cherise Scott, Technical Manager of Strategy at Unitaid, said: “CELT aims to bring together various parties on the science and global health side. Learnings across various entities are shared, and that’s one way we can get our products to people who need them quickly.” 

Given the current vaccine hesitancy in regards to COVID-19, Unitaid is working with representatives of communities and governments for each stage of project development, as well as community advisory boards to ensure that long acting medicines will be accepted by community members, and will not impose a cost-burden compared to standard treatments.  

Co-director of CELT, Professor Andrew Owen, said: “Long-acting drug delivery promises to transform patient management, with huge potential impact for treatment and prevention of infectious diseases. Benefits for efficacy flow from overcoming issues associated with patients sometimes not taking their medication, which may also help reduce emergence of antimicrobial resistance. CELT harnesses the power of local, national and international collaboration to accelerate understanding of the medicines of the future.”  

Image Credits: Vita Student/Flickr, World Bank/Flickr, AL.Eyad/Flickr.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.