Dr. Zeda Rosenberg, CEO of the International Partnership for Microbicides, discusses a new way to prevent HIV/AIDS.
We have recently seen a groundswell of promising developments in HIV prevention. Studies have shown that the same types of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs that have been so successful in treating HIV may also protect against infection before it takes hold. These findings have the potential to revolutionize the world’s approach to HIV prevention and the fight against AIDS.
The International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) is building on this scientific momentum. Today I am happy to share that The Ring Study, a Phase III efficacy trial to determine whether a monthly ARV vaginal ring can safely and effectively help prevent HIV infection in women, is underway in Africa. This is the first study to assess the efficacy of an HIV prevention ring that could provide women with a discreet, long-acting and easy-to-use way to protect themselves. The NIH-funded Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) is also conducting a Phase III “sister” study of the ring called ASPIRE (set to begin in the coming months).
Due to a combination of culture and biology, women are more likely to be infected with HIV than men. And yet women have had little control over most prevention methods. Condom use, abstinence, fidelity and male circumcision are all excellent methods, but they rely on a male partner’s cooperation or action, which is not always possible. Unfortunately, current methods have not done enough to stem the epidemic among women. The female-initiated microbicide ring that IPM developed could give women a new way to protect their health.
In addition, the ring’s sustained delivery of an ARV may offer an important benefit. Studies have shown that adherence is crucial to achieving the protective benefit offered by ARV-based prevention. Because IPM’s ring would be replaced monthly, it may help encourage consistent use and ensure women have the protection they need, whenever they need it.
In a few weeks, the International AIDS Society conference will convene thousands of HIV scientists, policymakers and activists in Washington DC under the theme “turning the tide together.” The ring, one of the new technologies to be discussed at the conference, has the potential to do just that.
Given the ring’s potential as a delivery device, IPM, with funding from USAID, is developing a 60-day ring designed to provide both HIV protection and contraception in a single product. In a session entitled Advancing the Integration of HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health we are cohosting with Women Deliver at the International AIDS Society conference next month in Washington DC, we will explore the urgent need for multipurpose prevention technologies for women who face the dual risks of HIV and unintended pregnancy. Our pipeline also includes other ARVS with different mechanisms of action that are being formulated as long-acting rings, gels and films.
I have long worked among a dedicated community of scientists and advocates to develop technologies for women to protect their health. And I have never been more optimistic about the potential for women to take control of HIV prevention and hopefully change the course of the epidemic.
Dr. Zeda Rosenberg is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Partnership for Microbicides.