Progress toward long-acting malaria pill

Malaria – iStock
Malaria – iStock

Scientists have made progress toward a pill that lingers in the stomach and releases its contents over a span of two weeks, an advance that could boost the fight against malaria and other diseases, according to a study.

Human trials next year

The research, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered the anti-parasitic and anti-malaria drug ivermectin to hundreds of pigs and dogs via a capsule that temporarily expands in the stomach so it cannot be passed to the intestines until the drug contents are gone.

It is scheduled to move into human trials next year.

"We have a lot of confidence in the safety of these dosage forms," said lead author Andrew Bellinger, formerly a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and now a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The goal is to boost efforts to eliminate malaria by making it easier for people to get the medication they need, and avoid having to remember a daily pill.

Read: Climate change ups malaria

"Getting patients to take medicine day after day after day is really challenging," said Bellinger.

"If the medicine could be effective for a long period of time, you could radically improve the efficacy of your mass drug administration campaigns."

Researcher Robert Langer, also of MIT, said the system has a wealth of potential uses.

Ultra-long-lasting oral systems

A new company, Lyndra, has also been launched by researchers and others to develop the technology for use against neuropsychiatric disorders, HIV, diabetes and epilepsy.

"Until now, oral drugs would almost never last for more than a day," said Langer.

"This really opens the door to ultra-long-lasting oral systems, which could have an effect on all kinds of diseases, such as Alzheimer's or mental health disorders."

Read: Cell phone protection from Alzheimers?

The capsule is "stable enough to survive the harsh environment of the stomach" and comes in a star-shape with six arms that can be folded inward and encased for easy swallowing.

Each arm is loaded with medicine, and these arms open and unfold inside the stomach as acid destroys the capsule's outer layer.

The star stays inside the stomach as the medicine is gradually released, then breaks apart and travels through the digestive tract.

The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Read more:

Beware of medication errors

Medication dependence questions

Don't mix-up your medication

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
27% - 9952 votes
73% - 26301 votes