VCU professor’s breakthrough could drastically reduce cost of AIDS drug

Posted at 8:48 PM, Jan 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-07 20:48:54-05

RICHMOND, Va. – A breakthrough by a VCU engineering professor could change the fight against the HIV/AIDS virus, and save millions of lives.

"We know every nine and a half minutes someone tests positive for HIV,” said Rodney Lofton, Executive Director, the Renewal Projects.

Lofton is passionate about fighting the AIDs virus.

"This generation now will never know the devastation of losing an entire community, losing a number of friends,” said Lofton.

Lofton heads up the Renewal Project which helps train people here and abroad on AIDS prevention programs.

"We're not seeing the deaths that we use to see.  But we're still seeing infections.  We're still seeing folks testing positive for HIV,” said Lofton.

According to Lofton, the City of Richmond ranked 17 in the nation for HIV cases per 100,000 people in 2014.

But he says the number of cases is much higher in other countries because infected patients can't afford to pay for the AIDS medication.

This major breakthrough at VCU's Department of Engineering could change this.

Researchers have been working on the active ingredients in the widely used drug called Nevirapine which is used to prevent mother to child transition of HIV, and they hope to reduce the cost by 50 percent.

“We worked hard to ensure that this new process would deliver the same quality of drug with the same efficacy that the existing drug has,” said Dr. Frank Gupton, Chair, Dept. of Chemical and Life Science Engineering.

We caught up with Dr. Frank Gupton, who is leading the project.

“The bigger opportunity is to be able to use the principles that we’ve used for this particular AIDS drug and apply them to other generic drugs and patent drugs, and be able to reduce the active ingredient for those drugs that are probably more widely used in the U.S.,” said Dr. Gupton.

Dr. Gupton spoke with CBS 6 by phone while in Washington, D.C.

He’s there to help develop a center to produce the active ingredients of the drug Nevirapine at VCU’s Department  of Engineering.  The funding for the process was provided through a $4.4 million dollar grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, in partnership with the Clinton foundation.