Paul Drain
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Paul Drain—an Associate Professor in the Department of Global Health, Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Washington—and his research team have received a new grant from the CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund, a program intended to help bridge the gap between academic research grants and the level of development needed to obtain investment. Drain’s project is titled “Rapid test for measuring adherence to antiretroviral therapy and pre-exposure prophylaxis”.  

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily pill that can prevent HIV acquisition, but only if clients maintain regular adherence. Drain noted that there are no current methods in place to monitor PrEP delivery for people who are at high risk of HIV infection, a group totaling over 50 million people worldwide. 

“The overall goal of this project is to help people living with HIV to suppress their virus with adequate treatment, and to help prevent HIV among people at high risk of acquisition,” Drain said. “In general, clinicians and providers ask patients and clients about their behaviors in taking these pills, but don’t have any accessible measures to determine if people are achieving adequate drug concentrations.”

To address this, Drain and his team (which includes a broad network of interdisciplinary expertise and experience in implementation of point-of-care testing) developed an innovative test to measure HIV drug levels. The test is suitable both for routine use in clinical laboratories and integration into point-of-care testing as a self-test in patients’ home. When coupled with additional counseling tools, the test will encourage better treatment and prevention, and may have a role in helping to end the HIV epidemic.

“Through this study, we have developed a rapid urine test that can detect the presence of tenofovir, the most common HIV drug for both treatment and prevention,” Drain explained. “We have also developed a slightly more complicated solution that can measure the enzymes that are being targeted by the HIV drugs. By measuring the activity of these enzymes, we can determine how much the drug has been present in their body and if it is enough to ensure appropriate levels for either treatment or prevention.” 

While spending several decades researching HIV and AIDS, Drain has seen and heard from multiple people on the need to simplify treatment.

“I’ve spent several years providing medical care in sub-Saharan Africa,” Drain said. “This included the time when HIV medications were unavailable to our patients, or were considered too difficult to take. In fact, many people said the regimens were too complicated for people to maintain adequate adherence to suppress HIV. Through our recent studies, we have demonstrated that not only can people take their medication, but that they are is critical in saving lives and preventing transmission.”

To learn more about the CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund, visit their website.