European Union Awards $13.7M for New Microbicide Development
The European Union has awarded $13.7 million to an international consortium of universities, research institutes and biotechnology companies to develop new microbicides that could prevent HIV transmission, London's Guardian reports (Jha, Guardian, 3/22). Microbicides include a range of products such as gels, films, sponges and other products that could help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although HIV is transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse in much of Africa and Asia, no female-controlled HIV prevention method currently is widely available (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/21/03). Charles Kelly, an immunologist at King's College-London, and Robin Shattock, an infectious diseases researcher at St. George's Hospital in London, who are serving as joint coordinators of the microbicide project, said that the E.U. grant -- the largest ever commitment of funds for microbicide work -- represents a "sea change" in the research, which has not gotten the attention of major pharmaceutical companies but could prevent millions of people from being infected with HIV, according to the Guardian. Research conducted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has shown that an effective microbicide could have an "enormous impact" on preventing HIV transmission, the Guardian reports. According to the research, a microbicide that is 60% effective could prevent 2.5 million HIV infections worldwide if 20% of the individuals with access to the microbicide used it half of the time they had sex without using a condom, according to the Guardian (Guardian, 3/22).
Britain's Microbicide Development program will begin human trials of two vaginal microbicides, Pro2000 and Emmelle, Reuters reports. The microbicides, which have been effective in animal trials, will be tested in trials involving 12,000 women in Africa (Reaney, Reuters, 3/23). The trials will take place over a three-year period in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda and Cameroon, according to BBC News. If the human trials are successful, a microbicide could be on the market by 2010. U.K. International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said, "Microbicides have the potential to give many women in developing countries the power, for the first time, to control their risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases," adding, "The simple application of a microbicide in the form of a cream or gel could make a huge difference to the lives of millions of poor women around the world" (BBC News, 3/23).
Although there are 60 potential types of microbicides being developed throughout the world in 14 clinical trials, the only "major" clinical trial of a microbicide -- using ingredients from the spermicide known as nonoxynol-9 -- was unsuccessful, according to the Guardian (Guardian, 3/22). Nonoxynol-9 works as a vaginal contraceptive by damaging the cell membranes of sperm, and some laboratory evidence has shown that the spermicide damages the cell walls of some organisms that cause sexually transmitted diseases and is active against some bacteria and viruses. According to data presented in January 2003, nonoxynol-9's membrane-damaging effect also can harm the cell lining of the vagina and cervix, possibly increasing the risk of STD and HIV transmission in women who use it (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/21).