Another Study Finds That Microbicides Cut Women's Herpes Risk
October 23, 2011
Last summer, the HIV/AIDS community received some amazing news: A 2010 clinical trial found that microbicides -- vaginal gel spiked with antiretrovirals -- cut HIV transmission during sex by 39 percent. But researchers also found that microbicides reduced a woman's risk of herpes by a whopping 51 percent.
According to The New York Times, a new study about microbicides has found similar results as the CAPRISA study. Researchers are hoping that this could potentially help American women, where herpes is much more common than HIV.
The study, by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Gilead Sciences Inc. and universities in Belgium and Italy, suggests that the microbicide gel, which was originally developed to fight AIDS in Africa, could lower the incidence of herpes in many women.
"This could be incredibly helpful," said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, a herpes expert from the University of Washington's medical school. "Protection that a woman can control is the holy grail in this field. It's hard for me to believe that something that protects against both H.I.V. and herpes wouldn't be appealing to a lot of young American women."
An executive at Gilead, the company that makes tenofovir, the anti-AIDS drug that is the gel's active ingredient, said the company was debating whether to spend the millions of dollars needed to get the gel approved for the American market. Even if the company pressed ahead immediately, "it would be three to four years before we were ready to submit data" to the Food and Drug Administration, Norbert W. Bischofberger, Gilead's chief scientific officer, said.
One major difference between this study and the CAPRISA trial was that the new report, published online by Cell Host and Microbe, explained why tenofovir actually works in reducing a woman's risk of contracting herpes. The Times also wrote:
The new study, involving lab experiments, was done to explain why the trial worked, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, a professor of epidemiology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and Columbia University and one of the Caprisa trial leaders.
"We were very pleasantly surprised to see such a potent effect," he said. "However, until now, we had only a hypothesis for the mechanism of action -- no clear-cut data."
The new study showed that when tenofovir enters human tissue it is converted into a form that disrupts an enzyme that herpes needs to make copies of itself.
In laboratory cultures of tonsil and cervical tissue, it lowered herpes viral levels by as much as 99 percent. It also prolonged the lives of mice that were given massive skin infections of herpes.
Taken as a pill, tenofovir inhibits H.I.V. but not herpes. Getting it into the vaginal wall is apparently crucial to its success.
It's unknown when microbicides will be FDA approved for women here in the U.S., but Anna Wald, M.D., a herpes specialist at the University of Washington's school of public health, told the Times that she was confident that "American women would accept it" when the time comes.
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