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VCU Professor Leads AIDS Drug Accessibility Efforts
September 19, 2013

Frank Gupton, Ph.D., research professor and chair of the Chemical and Life Science department at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering is leading efforts to help make AIDS drugs more accessible.

Supported by the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation’s Health Access Initiative, Gupton and his research team have identified a process that reduces the costs of active drug ingredients by 75 percent and uses continuous flow reactor technology to provide greater control over medication quality. The team is made up of scientists and engineers from VCU and Florida State University.

To date, the foundation has awarded the team with two grants to help fund research to counter the AIDS epidemic and bring much-needed change to the pharmaceutical processing industry.

Only 5.2 million people of the 33 million AIDS and HIV-infected individuals received anti-viral drugs in 2011, according to the World Health Organization. To combat the growth rate of AIDS, Gupton’s goal is to dramatically reduce the cost and increase the quantity and quality of anti-viral drugs – all factors in slowing the spread of AIDS.

The production of drugs through this novel approach has also attracted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and U.S. defense experts, since it could provide access to medicines in space or a battlefield.

After 31 years in the in the pharmaceutical industry, Gupton joined VCU in 2007 when it offered him time to explore the development of innovative chemical processes with pharmaceutical applications.

As executive director of process development at a major pharmaceutical company, Gupton, who holds several patents on his work, spearheaded the development of the commercial process that brought forth Nevirapine, an anti-viral drug which is one of the three components used in combination drug therapy for the treatment of AIDS. The process approved for Nevirapine is the foundation of the team’s expanded research, which Gupton has presented at scientific symposiums in Boston, Antwerp and Paris.

Rather than inventing new medications, Gupton’s team is looking at changing the way existing drugs are made.

Currently, pharmaceutical companies produce drug active ingredients using large scale batch processes – similar to how the commercial food industry produces sauce. However, this method, leads to waste and quality control problems since the drug mixture – like a sauce – is tested primarily at the end of production.

The team’s method uses continuous flow reactor technology that can be monitored constantly. Just as homemade sauces are tasted and adjusted frequently, the team’s process allows greater control over the quality of medications. This approach could significantly reduce drug manufacturing costs.

This article reprinted from materials provided by Virginia Commonwealth University.

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