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Researchers develop gel that could reduce jabs for Hepatitis C patients

SINGAPORE — Instead of weekly doses of discomfort, Hepatitis C patients could reduce the need for jabs by up to eight times if a drug-delivering hydrogel developed by researchers here reaches the market.

Researchers develop gel that could reduce jabs for Hepatitis C patients

The IBN behind the drug-delivering hydrogel. (from right) Dr Motoichi Kurisawa, Dr Ki Hyun Bae, Dr Keming Xu and Mr Fan Lee. Photo courtesy of the Institue of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

SINGAPORE — Instead of weekly doses of discomfort, Hepatitis C patients could reduce the need for jabs by up to eight times if a drug-delivering hydrogel developed by researchers here reaches the market.

The gel works through a compound — called polyethylene glycol (PEG) — that serves as microscopic reservoirs for drugs typically used to treat chronic Hep C patients. The compound prevents premature leakage of the drugs, which also diffuse slowly as they flow in and out of the many “reservoirs” in the gel before being released out to the body.

It was previously impossible to use hydrogels to deliver drugs with long-term efficacy due to the difficulty in controlling the drug-release rate, said the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, in a media release today (June 25).

The gel extends by up to 10 times the time taken for the amount of Hep C drugs in the body to be reduced by half, said Dr Motoichi Kurisawa, principal research scientist and IBN team leader. It reduces the need for frequent injections, he added.

Once the drugs are fully released, the gel degrades naturally and is passed out of the body.

The researchers’ findings were recently published in a journal called Biomaterials. But the new product could be several years from the market. The researchers are seeking a healthcare partner to conduct clinical trials, after studies conducted on animals.

Hep C, which affects about 0.2 per cent of the population here, is a liver disease that kills about half a million people worldwide yearly. Chronic Hep C patients typically undergo weekly injections of a protein drug called PEGylated interferon.

The gel is also being tested for the treatment of chronic diseases besides Hep C, said Dr Kurisawa.

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