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Microbicides for Sex: Anti-HIV Cream for Women Gets Support
  Seattle Post-Intelligencer
March 30, 2004
Tom Paulson
At the Microbicides 2004 conference in London this week,Lori Heise, director of the Global Campaign for Microbicides,said that more than $80 million in grants from the Bill andMelinda Gates Foundation has helped make the quest for amicrobicide for women in developing nations a promising area ofresearch.
About 1,000 people attended the conference. The goal is tofind a cream or gel women can apply intravaginally to preventsexual transmission of HIV by physically blocking or chemicallydisabling the virus.
The Gates Foundation's first microbicide research grant wasgiven to the New York-based Population Council, which will begintrials this year on Carraguard - a brand of seaweed extract oftenused as a food additive. A Gates-funded trial in India isevaluating an antifungal vaginal cream as a possible HIVmicrobicide. There is also a large-scale trial in Africa ofantibacterial and antimicrobial ointments, funded by $13.5million from the European Union and conducted by the UnitedKingdom's Medical Research Council.
On Monday, Johnson & Johnson announced that its Belgiansubsidiary Tibotec had donated patent rights for an experimentalgel to the International Partnership for Microbicides, anonprofit that received a $60 million Gates Foundation grant lastyear. The Rockefeller Foundation and the governments of Britain,the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland and Denmark have also donated tothe partnership.
Experts say married women in developing countries - who aretypically expected to bear children and are in no position to asktheir husbands to use condoms - are now the most at-risk for HIV.A microbicide would give these women protection they couldcontrol themselves. About 14,000 new infections every day occuramong women.
Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and TropicalMedicine estimated that an effective anti-HIV microbicide couldprevent 2.5 million infections worldwide over three years, evenif such a cream were only 60 percent effective against HIV andonly 20 percent of women used it half the time they did not usecondoms.
Heise said science is still several years away from developing an effective microbicide.
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