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How a Tiny, Implantable Drug Could Prevent HIV

May 3, 2017, 3:36 AM UTC

In the future, it may be possible to prevent HIV through the help of a miniature pump that’s been implanted underneath one’s skin.

That’s the promise of the pharmaceutical company Intarcia Therapeutics, whose chairman and president Kurt Graves spoke at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference Tuesday in San Diego.

Intarcia is currently developing an HIV-preventing drug and treatment technology that Graves hopes could eventually solve a big problem facing the health care industry and the treatment of chronic diseases. Although the typical way of delivering medicine via pills and injections works in remedying illnesses in the short term, people often “stop taking their meds,” which results in ineffective treatment, he explained.

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Graves explained that Intarcia’s chemists have developed a way to keep medications effective in a person’s body for over three years, which he described as “the enabling secret sauce of our company.” Additionally, Intarcia created a sort-of mini pump that when embedded into a person’s body, slowly dispenses the required medicine “each day for a full year.”

He demonstrated how medical professionals would implant the pump by nipping at the skin of a fake torso to create a 4-millimeter incision. Graves simply slipped the miniature pump underneath the skin of the dummy and said that the mini-surgery would be painless for patients.

“I just put a mini pump under your skin,” Graves bragged. “You now have your once-a-year treatment.”

As of now, Intarcia’s new HIV treatment is still in the research phase, but the company is moving full steam ahead after receiving a $140 million investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in December, he said.

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“With HIV, you can’t afford to have a day that you’re not treated,” said Graves of the importance of proper HIV treatment. “If your exposed to HIV, you’re going to get it.”