June 20, 2012

Ushering in Advancements for Women’s Health

Executive Vice President of Product Development
International Partnership for Microbicides

Dr. Bríd Devlin is the executive vice president of product development of the International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM), a GHTC member. In this guest post, she writes about a new study IPM launched last week that will look at a new HIV prevention option for women.

Last week, IPM announced The Ring Study, a Phase III efficacy trial to determine whether a monthly antiretroviral (ARV)-containing vaginal ring can safely and effectively help prevent HIV infection in women. This product could provide women with discreet, long-acting, and easy-to-use protection.

In my role, I oversee IPM’s drug development projects. After working on a variety of drug delivery technologies for over 18 years, I cannot overstate how excited I am about a ring for prevention of HIV—this could be a real game-changer. The ring is a platform technology that has been used successfully for other medical purposes for decades. IPM has adapted the ring to potentially stem the spread of HIV to women in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of the epidemic and where our studies show high acceptability for such a product.

While highly effective, current HIV prevention options often cannot be used by women who are disproportionately vulnerable to infection. The ring is a promising way to expand women’s prevention options on multiple levels. First, several studies have shown that the same types of ARV drugs that successfully treat HIV may also protect against infection before it has a chance to take hold. In addition, by offering women sustained, monthly protection, it could overcome the burden of adherence, which is crucial to achieving the protective benefit offered by ARV-based prevention. As Sarah Boseley of The Guardian wrote in her recent blog, it’s a tool that “women can wear and forget about—at least for a month at a time.” The ring is also female-initiated and discreet. This means women can control their own HIV prevention without having to rely on a male partner’s cooperation or action.

IPM has announced The Ring Study, a Phase III efficacy trial to determine whether a monthly antiretroviral (ARV)-containing vaginal ring can safely and effectively help prevent HIV infection in women.

Additional studies in the field are looking at other approaches to female-initiated prevention, such as gels used around the time of sex and daily pills. It is important for women to have a range of options so that they can choose a product that best meets their needs and preferences.

This year, IPM celebrates its 10th anniversary and a decade of progress in helping to advance HIV prevention for women. We have not arrived at this milestone alone. Partnership is at the core of our business model and mission. By working with partners across the public and private sectors, we amplify our individual resources and scientific ingenuity to help meet the health needs of women everywhere. For instance, the National Institutes of Health-funded Microbicide Trials Network will begin a larger Phase III “sister” study of the ring called ASPIRE in the coming months.

Given its promise as a delivery mechanism, IPM is adapting the ring to meet the unique needs of women. With funding from the US Agency for International Development, we are developing a dual-purpose prevention ring designed to provide both HIV protection and contraception in a single product. We are bringing together global leaders to talk about the urgent need for multipurpose prevention technologies at Advancing the Integration of HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health, a satellite session IPM is cohosting with Women Deliver at the upcoming International AIDS Society (IAS) conference.

In late July, thousands of HIV scientists, policymakers, and activists will descend on Washington, DC, for the IAS conference. The theme is “turning the tide together” and one topic that will be highlighted is promising developments in HIV prevention. IPM looks forward to the ring being part of that conversation.