Microbicides for sexually transmitted diseases

Technology tops HIV/AIDS agenda

TORONTO New technologies for preventing the transmission of HIV topped yesterdays agenda at the 16th International AIDS Conference, with South African researcher Prof Gita Ramjee saying scientists would know by the end of next year whether they had an effective microbicide to add to the worlds armoury.

Scores of women to test new anti-HIV product

More than 5 000 Durban women have volunteered for the world's largest microbicides clinical trials that will test the efficacy of the anti-HIV product which, if successful, could prevent at least 2,5 million new infections in the developing world over the next five years.

New HIV barrier 'closer'

Scientists believe they could be a step closer to developing a new way of stopping the transmission of HIV without using condoms. Researchers from the US and Britain found for the first time that a microbicide - a chemical that kills microorganisms - can block the spread of the virus which can lead to Aids. Correspondents say the research - published in the Journal Nature Medicine - could eventually benefit women whose partners refuse to use condoms.The microbicides - possibly in the form of gels, foam sponges or pessaries - could be used by women before sexual intercourse. They work to stop the virus from getting near the vulnerable cells it infects and increasing the body's defences. In this case, the scientists applied a microbicide gel which contained a human antibody in the vaginas of macaque monkeys. They found that the gel protected the macaques from infection with the simian HIV virus for more than seven hours. Specialists say that microbicides offer more choice and control than other HIV barriers. Among other things, they remove the stigma which is often attached to using condoms. Some of the 60 compounds now being tested can also be used as contraceptives, while others protect against sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhoea - which are growing problems in developed countries. (Source: BBC news, 10 February, 2003)

Vaginal creams set to help in anti-HIV battle

A national prevention initiative could bring hope to millions of South African women at risk of contracting HIV. The initiative, which could stem further spread of the disease, was launched in Durban last night and has the full backing of the government. It will for the first time see the accelerated testing of safe and effective microbicides - vaginal barrier gels which have the potential to reduce the transmission of HIV by killing off sperm cells and the viruses and bacteria that lead to AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The new initiative was announced at a two-day microbicide conference at Durban's International Conference Centre that was attended by 140 national and international delegates. Already 700 women are involved in safety and acceptability studies at two sites in KwaZulu Natal and one in Johannesburg. The trials will look at effective and acceptable formulations, with a view to registering the substances for general use. Two of the microbicides that could find their way onto the South African market are Carraguard, derived from an extract of seaweed, and BufferGel, which uses a similar substance. (Source: The Star, 5 December 2002).

UK donates R270m to help stop HIV transmission to women

The SA Medical Research Council and a number of foreign research organisations have been awarded about R270m to develop an effective vaginal microbicide for the prevention of HIV transmission to women. Council Spokesman Vincent Moaga said yesterday the money was awarded by the UK's department for international development and the five-year research programme would be co-ordinated by the Medical Research Council in the UK. Other participants include the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of the Witwatersrand, and a group of research collaborators in the UK, Uganda, Tanzania, Cameroon and Zambia. Moaga said that since HIV/AIDS had been recognised as a disease in the 1980s it had become the leading cause of death in Africa and the fourth most common in the world. More than 36-million people had HIV, 15000 people were infected daily, and 8000 people died of AIDS every day. The first two microbicides to be assessed for their safety are Dextrin sulphate and PRO 2000. Dextrin sulphate has already been tested in the UK, Belgium and Uganda and PRO 2000 in the UK, USA and SA. PRO 2000 gel has received approval for clinical trials in the UK, US and SA. Dextrin sulphate has received approval by the Medicines Control Agency in the UK. (Source: SAPA, 16 January 2002)

Drug companies under fire for lack of interest in microbicides

The Global Campaign for Microbicides has hit out at the lack of interest by large pharmaceutical companies to urgently develop a microbicide that could protect women against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Terri Wilder, co-chair of the Campaign for Microbicides said that with sufficient human and scientific resources, a microbicidal product could be available to women within five years. Microbicides are substances that could substantially reduce the transmission of HIV and other STDs when used in the vagina or rectum. Microbicides could come in many forms, including gels, creams, suppositories, films, or in the form of a sponge or vaginal ring. They would provide an alternative method of disease protection for women and couples who, for a variety of reasons, cannot use condoms to prevent HIV/STD transmission. Wilder pointed out that although microbicides would probably never be as effective as condoms in preventing infection, women who are seldom or never able to use condoms could lower their overall risk of infection by using a microbicide. Scientists and researchers at a recent infectious diseases congress in Stellenbosch agreed that a microbicide would only be developed by 2007, soonest. Dr Helen Rees of the Reproductive Health Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital told the gathering that big agencies saw no potential of great profit in the product. A recent survey by the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated that 21 million American women were interested in a microbicidal product. In other acceptability studies conducted in Zimbabwe, Uganda, and South Africa, both women and men expressed willingness to use microbicides. Wilder said that barely more than one percent of the budget for HIV/AIDS-related research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States was being spent on microbicide research. Women are at greater risk of acquiring STDs than men and in most cases, and the consequences of contracting STDs include infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and cervical cancer, are more serious and permanent for women. Today, women are the fastest-growing population with HIV/AIDS, and most become infected through heterosexual contact. (Source: Health-e News Service, 11 January 2002)