December 07, 2011

IPM receives USAID award to advance dual-purpose prevention ring for women

Clinical Communications Officer
International Partnership for Microbicides

Luann Tia Blount is the Clinical Communications Officer for GHTC member the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), a nonprofit product development partnership dedicated to developing new HIV prevention technologies and making them available to women in developing countries. This post discusses novel approaches to HIV prevention, namely an adapted medical technology used to deliver hormones to women—the vaginal ring.

Last week, in honor of World AIDS Day, the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) renewed its commitment to finding innovative ways to fight the spread of the epidemic. At the International Conference on Family Planning in Dakar, Senegal, IPM announced a five-year award with a $2 million ceiling from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support the development of a 60-day dual-purpose vaginal ring that would combine the antiretroviral (ARV) drug dapivirine with a contraceptive to offer women around the world both HIV protection and contraception in a single product.

Research has consistently shown that a woman’s risk of HIV and her reproductive health are inherently linked, demonstrating a clear need for tools that women can use that address these issues in tandem. Filling the gap in maternal health services for women who want to delay or prevent pregnancy could decrease the number of women who die during pregnancy or childbirth by about one-third. Expanding women’s options with a discreet and affordable product that could safely meet both women’s contraceptive and HIV prevention needs could therefore help reduce maternal mortality and empower women to protect their own health.

The USAID funding will support IPM as it integrates a contraceptive into IPM’s existing dapivirine-only HIV prevention ring, also in development. The dapivirine ring adapts a medical technology commonly used to deliver hormones to women—the vaginal ring—to the fight against HIV.

Expanding women’s options with a discreet and affordable product that could safely meet both women’s contraceptive and HIV prevention needs could therefore help reduce maternal mortality and empower women to protect their own health. Photo: Andrew Loxely

The dual-purpose dapivirine-contraceptive ring could one day offer a convenient and affordable option for women who cannot negotiate the use of condoms or for whom condoms are not always a realistic choice. In addition, because the ring offers sustained protection, it may help women use it consistently and could help ensure its effectiveness.

Dapivirine is IPM’s most clinically advanced microbicide candidate. It belongs to a class of ARVs known as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, or NNRTIs, which work by preventing HIV from replicating its genetic material after the virus enters a healthy cell. ARVs have long been used successfully to treat HIV and to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and research in the past year has shown their potential to prevent HIV.

IPM is developing the drug for use as a microbicide through a royalty-free license granted by Tibotec Pharmaceuticals, one of the Janssen pharmaceutical companies. Since 2004, 15 clinical safety studies of dapivirine, formulated as either a vaginal gel or a vaginal ring, have been conducted by IPM and its partners showing that it is safe and well-tolerated by women.

Early next year, IPM will advance a different product, the dapivirine-only HIV prevention ring, into a product licensure program with its partner, the National Institutes of Health-funded Microbicide Trials Network (MTN). The monthly dapivirine ring may also help expand women’s HIV prevention options with a long-acting and easy-to-use product women can use to protect themselves.

As part of the program, IPM will conduct the Ring Study, also known as IPM 027, which will collect long-term safety and efficacy data and involve 1,650, healthy, HIV-negative women ages 18 to 60 at several research centers across Africa. The Ring Study will also assess women’s adherence to and acceptability of the vaginal ring.

MTN will conduct a second efficacy study of the dapivirine ring next year. Called ASPIRE—A Study to Prevent Infection with a Ring for Extended Use, also known as MTN-020—the trial will enroll approximately 3,475 HIV-negative women between ages 18 and 45 in five African countries. Collectively, these two studies will provide the data necessary to determine dapivirine’s suitability for licensure, should the product prove effective.

IPM is also exploring other novel approaches and combinations products such as a maraviroc ring and a maraviroc-dapivirine combination HIV prevention ring, also in partnership with MTN. Maraviroc is a CCR5 blocker that works by obstructing a receptor (CCR5) on the surface of cells that is used by the most commonly transmitted strains of HIV-1 to attach to and enter healthy cells. When that receptor is blocked, HIV cannot enter healthy cells. IPM is developing maraviroc for use as a microbicide through a royalty-free license with ViiV Healthcare. This is the first time maraviroc is being studied for use as a microbicide.

As we know from the contraceptive field, a variety of product choices greatly increases the chances that one of them will be used. So our best weapon against the epidemic is a range of daily and long-acting options that meet women’s unique needs and preferences.

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