AP Examines HIV Microbicides, PrEP Research

“Try after try to make vaginal creams that could repel the AIDS virus have failed. Now researchers are testing if a drug used to treat HIV infection finally might give women a tool to prevent it – by infusing the medicine into vaginal gels and contraceptive-style rings,” the Associated Press reports in a piece that examines researchers’ latest efforts to create effective HIV microbicides, ahead of the biennial International Microbicides Conference next weekend.

Microbicides offer a form of “woman-controlled protection[,] … considered key to battling the HIV epidemic – especially in developing countries where the virus is at its worst and women too often can’t get their partners to use a condom,” the AP writes.

The piece also details how researchers are testing whether a daily does of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can keep healthy individuals from becoming infected with HIV. “More than half a dozen studies of this so-called Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis [PrEP] are under way among high-risk populations around the world, largely using the drug tenofovir because it tends to cause fewer side effects than many other AIDS drugs,” the AP writes. “Even if that eventually proves protective, taking daily pills has drawbacks – systemic side effects, the risk of drug resistance, what happens if people miss a dose or share tablets with an already infected relative – that make the approach controversial,” according to the news service.

Researchers are waiting to see the results of clinical trial of women who used “a gel made of the AIDS drug tenofovir” – expected out in July, according to the AP. Before the results become available, however, the NIH “is funding the next step: Researchers now are recruiting up to 5,000 healthy women in several African countries to use either vaginal tenofovir gel – daily rather than timed around intercourse – or daily pills containing the drug. It’s the first comparison of the two strategies,” the AP writes.

The article includes comments by Salim Abdool Karim of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who “led the pending tenofovir gel study,” as well as several other researchers (Neergaard, 5/17).

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