An agreement between the United States Agency for International Development and the Population Council announced Monday for the development of a non-antiretroviral-based compound to block HIV and other sexually transmitted infections could yield a low-risk, easy access product for women in low resource settings in as few as a dozen years, if a promising new compound performs as hoped.
That is a big if — the field of micobicide research has seen a roller coaster of raised expectations and dashed hopes over the last decades. But the investment itself in an additional option for a multi-use microbicide that would eliminate the need for HIV screening before use, could be available over the counter and would cut the risks of later drug-resistance that could come with antiretroviral based products, is exciting, Naomi Rutenberg, Population Council vice president and director of HIV and AIDS program says. With an estimated 35 million people living with HIV across the globe, sub-Saharan Africa, where about 60 percent of those with the virus are women, is the world’s hardest hit region.
“We’ve been making the case to USAID for a number of years,” Rutenberg said. The problem was, before antiretroviral drugs in microbicide formulations started showing promising results, the field had stalled, with disappointing trial results with products that included the Pro 2000 gel dampening enthusiasm for new attempts. A promising new compound that appears effective in laboratory studies at blocking HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases offers potential, though, Rutenberg said. By blocking more than one infection, it would be efficient, and offer an additional protection from HIV because other sexually transmitted infections increase susceptibility to HIV acquisition.
The agreement, through PEPFAR support is a $20 million five year initiative, according to Population Council’s press release. Plans are aiming at beginning clinical trials in 2016, initially for a gel-based product, Rutenberg said. That means that a best case scenario could make a product available by about 2026.