HIV prevention implant gets $140 million in funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation continues to invest in saving lives with its latest venture. / Jason Alden (Getty)

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has donated $140 million dollars to search for the cure to HIV/AIDS in the form of an implant. This technology will completely change the HIV prevention capability of pharmaceuticals, which currently come in the form of pills and, similar to oral birth control methods, are only effective if taken consistently.

“There’s a vital need for an HIV/AIDS intervention that allows those at risk to incorporate prevention more easily into their daily lives,” Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told Quartz. The foundation has invested $50 million to a Boston-based Intarcia Therapeutics, as well as providing them with another $90 million in order to develop their implant, which is reportedly similar to a pump that might be used to deliver insulin consistently to a person with Diabetes.

Last month, students at Sydney Grammar, a school in Australia have recreated the HIV drug Daraprim in a lab for only a fraction of what the drug is sold for by the company who own it, Turing Pharmaceutical. The company is headed by Martin Shkreli and has been widely criticized for charging exorbitant prices for various important drugs which are often needed by those who are uninsured and will therefore have to pay out-of-pocket for medicine they need to stay alive and healthy. Shkreli came under fire after his company raised the price of the EpiPen, an easy to use, injectable dose of epinephrine that is used to save lives —mainly of children— when they experience an anaphylactic allergic reaction.  While the version of the drug created by the students cannot be sold — it hasn’t been approved by any governing body or gone through the rigorous testing involved in putting a drug on the market– it demonstrates just how much money pharmaceutical companies might be making from the sale of life-saving medicine and how important research from institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation really is.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, nearly 37 million people worldwide are living with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and 25 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. The virus has already taken the lives of nearly 35 million people since it first presented in humans in the 1980s. The charity has several areas of focus when it comes to HIV/AIDS research, including developing long-acting preventative measures like the implant, and the development of an HIV vaccine. The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care in Ontario says, “the estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario has risen significantly, from 15,904 people living with HIV/AIDS in 1999 to 26,627 in 2008.” The ministry says some of the increase is due to decreased mortality rates for those infected with the virus, and more effective treatment rates. The ministry reports 1,618 new infections in 2008.

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