University of Pittsburgh Awarded $8 Million NIH Grant To Study HIV-Blocking Microbicide Gel
The NIH has awarded an $8 million grant to the University of Pittsburgh to conduct laboratory and clinical studies of UC781, a "powerful antiviral agent" that could potentially be used to develop a vaginal gel to block HIV transmission, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Child Health and Development have granted four such awards as part of a program to develop a vaginal gel microbicide that would be effective against HIV and ultimately against all sexually transmitted diseases. The university will use the grant to study a microbicide containing UC781, a molecule that "tightly binds to HIV and prevents it from infecting cells," according to the Post-Gazette. UC781 belongs to the non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor class of antiretroviral drugs, which directly inactivates the enzymes that HIV needs to replicate. Sharon Hillier, a senior investigator at the Magee-Women's Research Institute, the organization leading the effort, said that due to the potency of the agent, only a small amount would be needed, making the cost of the agent less than one cent per application (Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/10). Many AIDS advocates have looked to microbicides as a means of putting sexual health decisions in the hands of women. Because a prevention product is "effective only to the extent that it is used," microbicides would have the advantage of allowing a woman to be in control of their use, according to Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Center for Research on Women. The development of a microbicide gel that could be applied vaginally or rectally would enable women to protect themselves when cultural barriers prevent them from requiring that their partner wear a condom (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/13/02). Hillier said that human testing to determine the safety of a gel formulation of UC781 is expected to begin by the end of this year. Clinical tests of the agent's effectiveness against HIV would be conducted through the HIV Prevention Trial Network, an international consortium of clinics and hospitals, and would require additional funding. Biosyn Inc., the Philadelphia-area pharmaceutical firm that developed the gel formulation, is researching the possibility of placing the microbicide in a vaginal ring (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/10).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.