Microbicides Under Development Could Provide Alternative to Condoms
Several microbicides currently under development could provide an alternative to condoms as a method of preventing HIV transmission in five to 10 years, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Microbicides, which would come in gels, creams, suppositories, sponges and other forms, kill or "deactivate" sperm and microorganisms that cause HIV and other STDs. Most microbicides under development are designed for vaginal use, meaning that women would no longer have to "rely on men to wear condoms," the Sun-Times reports. Albert Profy of Interneuron Pharmaceuticals, which is testing the Pro 2000 microbicide, said that his company hopes to "provide a more natural option that would be under the control of women." Pro 2000 is "one of the most promising" microbicides currently undergoing human trials, the Sun-Times reports. Pro 2000 "coats" HIV, prohibiting the virus from entering human cells, and appears to prevent transmission of chlamydia and gonorrhea as well. The product is one of several microbicides being tested as an alternative to nonoxynol-9, a microbicide ingredient that has "been on the market for years," but has recently been shown to increase the risk of HIV infection. In addition, a research group at Chicago's Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center is examining seven possible active ingredients for microbicide suppositories and gels. One ingredient would prevent a virus from entering a cell, bar sperm from fertilizing eggs and prohibit bacteria from multiplying, according to biochemist Lourens Zaneveld. Microbicides could also be adapted for rectal use. Since "many people still don't like [using] condoms" during sex, popular interest is booming for microbicides. In a July/August Alan Guttmacher Institute survey, more than 12 million sexually active women between 15 and 44 said they "would be interested" in using a microbicide.
Microbicides Meet Skepticism
Hurdles remain to the development of microbicides, however, including skepticism from physicians and indifference from drug companies, the Sun-Times reports. A recent report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute showed that many physicians doubt that vaginal microbicides in any form will be a "magic bullet" to stop HIV transmission, and health experts still predict that condoms "will remain the primary and most effective weapon for couples to use in preventing STDs." In addition, most major drug companies "have shown little interest in microbicides," as the products would likely be sold over-the-counter, thus generating lower profits for the firms. Drug companies also are concerned about the possibility of facing a lawsuit in cases where a microbicide fails to prevent HIV transmission. Microbicide development will possibly be left to small drug companies, not-for-profit organizations and university and government researchers, the Sun-Times reports (Chicago Sun-Times, 1/29).