Vaginal Ring to Prevent HIV Transmission

A new trial is underway in Africa for a groundbreaking medical device intended to help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Taking from the technology used to deliver contraceptive hormones, the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) developed a silicone ring that delivers antriretroviral (ARV) medications vaginally to fight HIV before transmission can occur.

Known as “IPM 015”, this two-phase clinical trial, on the heels of several studies done in Europe to test the safety and acceptability of the ring, includes 280 women in South Africa.

Worldwide, women already make up half of the more than 33 million people already infected with HIV, and the WHO (World Health Organization) recently released data showing that, in Africa, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among women aged 15 to 49.  It is hopeful that this technology will help stem the spread of HIV infection, particularly areas of high-risk areas, specifically  developing nations, where it is not uncommon to encounter an aversion to condom use. 
Using the vaginal ring as a pre-exposure prophylactic empowers women with a tool for protecting their health.  Addressing women’s needs when it comes to HIV transmission is essential to curb the worldwide epidemic, as women are, often as a result of biological and social disadvantages, at higher risk for HIV transmission.

The International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) argues that the vaginal ring holds “tremendous promise” and stated that the treatment could offer “discreet, effective, and sustained protection against HIV infection.”  The flexible silicone ring releases the antiretroviral drug dapivirine over the course of a month; the wearer must replace the ring every month for continuous protection.

The studies being done intend to measure both the acceptability of the ring as well as whether consumers can (and will) consistently use the ring. Stakes for microbicides are high as they may be up to 80% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV, and the dapivirine used in the vaginal ring is in the same class of ARV drugs used to help prevent mother-to-baby transmission of HIV.
Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, explains, “Preventing HIV transmission is essential if we are to protect the health and safety of future generations. If successful, innovations like microbicides could have an extraordinary impact.”

After Phases I/II for safety and acceptability are complete, the silicone ring will go into Phase III testing for efficacy in 2011.  During Phase III, a phase including 8,000 women across seven countries, the ring will be evaluated for its ability to prevent HIV transmission. The International Partnership for Microbicides’ CEO, Zeda Rosenberg, estimates that the vaginal ring could be on the market as early as 2015.

Sources:

http://www.ipmglobal.org/news_room/english/statements/2010/20100608_safety_trial.htm 
Accessed 09 July 2010.
http://www.unaids.org/
Accessed 09 July 2010.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/14/AR2010061405577.html 
Accessed 10 January 2010.