Tiny implant from Merck may prevent HIV infection for up to a year

26 Jul 2019

Image: © tashatuvango/Stock.adobe.com

Daily medication taken by those at high risk of HIV could one day be replaced by a new, tiny implant that is under development at Merck.

Medication called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is currently the most effective means of preventing a person from contracting HIV. Required to be taken daily, users may fall prone to lapses in memory and forget to take it on a given day for a variety of reasons, thereby making it less effective.

However, pharma giant Merck (known as MSD outside the US and Canada) has proposed an alternative method using a tiny implant. Similar to the so-called ‘bar’ used for birth control, the implant is placed into the patient and would deliver a daily dose of HIV prevention for up to a year.

Announcing the results of a Phase 1 trial using the implant, Merck’s researchers said that the test involving 12 men over a period of 12 weeks showed promising results.

“We are encouraged by the results of this proof-of-concept study exploring the potential of delivering meaningful doses of islatravir over a 12-week period,” said Dr Roy Baynes, senior vice-president, head of global clinical development and chief medical officer at Merck Research Laboratories. “At Merck, we recognise multiple options are needed to address the needs of individuals at risk of HIV-1, and we are committed to investigating those options.”

Bacteria-killing ‘Jell-O’ can heal itself while healing you

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have developed a promising antibacterial gel – made entirely from bacteria-killing viruses – that could be immensely beneficial as a coating for implants and artificial joints.

Designed to target specific forms of bacteria, the gel could also be used as a sterile growth scaffold for human tissue or in environmental clean-up operations. Yellow in colour and resembling the foodstuff Jell-O, a single millilitre of the gel contains 300m phages.

“Phages are all around us, including inside our bodies,” said chemical engineer Zeinab Hosseini-Doust. “Phages are bacteria’s natural predators. Wherever there are bacteria, there are phages. What is unique here is the concentration we were able to achieve in the lab to create a solid material.”

Hosseini-Doust said the DNA of phages can readily be modified to target specific cells, including cancer cells. Through a Nobel Prize-winning technology called phage display, it’s even possible to find phages that target plastics or environmental pollutants.

The researchers’ findings have been published to the journal Chemistry of Materials.

Robot to start lining GAA pitches for World Games 2019 at WIT

A custom-programmed robot has been used to precision-line seven playing pitches as part of the upcoming GAA World Games 2019. Taking place on the grounds of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), this marks the first time ever that playing pitches in Ireland have been marked using the robot created by Intelligent Marking.

The company said that it would typically take two people between three and five hours to initially mark a GAA pitch.

“Lining seven pitches from scratch, some of them on [artificial grass], and getting all of the markings and specs perfect would have taken the WIT Arena team approximately a week. It would have been a nightmare and would have held up the entire grounds staff,” said Intelligent Marking’s CTO, Stefan Thilemann.

“Setting the system up and inserting the required program on to the tablet and lining the entire WIT Arena campus took only a few hours. We walked away for the rest of the day and let the robot do its job.”

The robot sent to work at WIT, Intelligent One, is pre-programmed for at least 50 different field layouts, weighs 60kg and is controllable using a tablet device.

5G subscribers in Asia and North America set to rise to 1.1bn by 2023

The 5G roll-out continues to gather pace, with analysts at IHS Markit predicting that by 2023 the number of subscribers will surpass 1bn. This will be nearly triple the total for 4G during the same time period.

Several factors will contribute to 5G’s rapid rise, it said, including the early availability of a large number of compatible devices.

“During 4G’s first year of launch, there were only three smartphones available to consumers that supported the standard,” said Elias Aravantinos, principal analyst at IHS Markit.

“On the other hand, 5G boasts at least 20 smartphone designs available for release to the market this year. This demonstrates the high degree of market readiness for 5G, and its capability to attain high volumes more quickly than 4G.”

Despite North America leading the charge initially for 5G subscription, Asia Pacific will rise rapidly and surpass it as soon as 2021. By 2023, Asia Pacific will have a 5G installed base of 785m, dwarfing the 294m total for North America.

“Asia Pacific is destined for 5G market domination thanks to the massive deployment of the technology in China and India,” Aravantinos said. “Led by deployment in these countries, 5G will reach its so-called ‘golden year’ in 2023, when 5G will be present in most handsets.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic