UNC Researchers Receive $3.74 Million to Create Injectable Technology for Contraception, HIV Prevention

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The lab of Rahima Benhabbour, PhD, has received a $3.74 million grant over five years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will fund the creation of an injectable that will provide long-acting protection for women against sexually transmitted pathogens and prevent pregnancy, but is also removable.

The work will be a collaboration amongst Benhabbour’s lab and three researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Gerardo Garcia-Lerma, PhD, Ivana Massud, PhD, and Charles Dobard, PhD. They will develop a new, ultra-long-acting In-Situ Forming Implant (ISFI) drug delivery system as a multi-purpose prevention technology (MPT) for the prevention of HIV and unplanned pregnancy.

MPTs for protection of women against sexually transmitted pathogens and prevention of pregnancy are in a phase of accelerated encouragement and development, with multiple drugs and delivery systems. Long-acting (LA) MPT formulations that provide sustained drug release over weeks or months can potentially enhance compliance to prophylactic therapies and reduce the incidence of new HIV infections and unintended pregnancy.

Currently, there are no LA injectable MPT formulations in development, mainly because of limitations of current LA injectable formulations utilizing nanoparticle suspensions like cabotegravir and rilpivirine. These limitations include inability to combine two drugs into one formulation, and once administered, nanoparticle formulated LA injectable drugs cannot be removed in the event of breakthrough infection, toxicity, allergic response, or pregnancy.

Benhabbour and her collaborator’s work will address these limitations by creating an ultra-LA ISFI formulation that is simple to prepare, biodegradable, can incorporate an antiretroviral and a contraceptive drug with an initial targeting of more than six months of sustained release, and can be removed to terminate the treatment regimen if required.

Learn more about the Benhabbour lab and their research here.