Problem Dissolved

Problem Dissolved

Our pharmacists regularly work with industry to make drugs safer, more effective and easier to ingest. We teamed up with a major health care company to develop a new anti-HIV drug that can be easily dissolved in water and better absorbed by the body.

Pharmacists work with a huge variety of people in their daily efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of patients – they’re involved in clinical work with doctors, nurses and carers; fundamental scientific research with academics from other disciplines; and – as this story demonstrates – advanced drug development with partners in the pharmaceutical industry.

Every part of the process is crucial, and solving what might seem like a small problem can lead to hugely beneficial outcomes.

Making progress on HIV

We do a lot of work on the most destructive health problems like HIV, cancer and neurogenerative disorders. Due to the complex nature of the treatment for these diseases, it’s a constant battle to find new ways of making pharmaceuticals more effective and easier to administer.

Whilst HIV medication is now amazingly effective, a high percentage of patients generate resistance to the first generation anti-HIV medicines after being treated for a period of time.

In response, a new generation of ‘non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor’ (NNRTI) drugs were designed to be effective against resistant strains of HIV. However, these drugs are practically insoluble in water, so they cannot be easily dissolved in the gut after oral administration and thus fail to provide a therapeutic effect.

Scientists from the School of Pharmacy at UEA (Dr Qi and Prof. Craig) worked closely with a major industrial partner to understand how a new type of formulation, so called 'solid dispersions', can help enhance the dissolution of these poorly soluble drugs in the human gut and thereby improve absorption by the body.

Their successful efforts led to the approval of the drug, Etravirine, in America, Europe and many other parts of the world, overcoming a major barrier to the effective treatment of HIV.


The Expert

Dr Sheng Qi

Senior Lecturer in Pharmaceutics
School of Pharmacy
Sheng’s current research interests mainly focus on gaining a fundamental understanding of the behaviour of drug-polymer/lipid dispersions in solid (phase behaviour) and liquid (in biological fluids) states, and developing new approaches for stabilising supersaturated drug dispersions. By working with industrial partners as well as cross-discipline collaborators, her group is aiming to contribute to the interdisciplinary research area of enhancing drug absorption via tailoring the physical chemistry of drug formulations.