NIH grants $20M to develop an intravaginal ring to prevent HIV

Intravaginal ring--Courtesy of Northwestern University

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded $20 million to a collaboration of researchers led by the Oak Crest Institute of Science to develop a novel intravaginal ring designed to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted HIV in women by delivering powerful combinations of antiretroviral drugs.

Intravaginal rings show promise as a drug delivery system to prevent HIV infection, but most prototypes can't deliver the combination of many effective HIV medicines, the researchers said. Thus, the delivery of successful combinations of HIV/AIDS medications has been impossible through intravaginal rings.

The intravaginal ring platform enables the HIV prevention research project, as researchers have shown that it can independently and simultaneously deliver five different drugs, each with controlled doses. The researchers will be able to rigorously test drug combinations in an effort to find the best combination of drugs for HIV prevention.

Other advantages of the design include accelerated prototype development and scalability in manufacturing as the process largely doesn't change regardless of the drug combinations.

A multidisciplinary team from the University of Texas Medical Branch was included in the NIH funding with a grant of $2.5 million. The group will lead projects designed to determine drug safety and efficacy of the antiretroviral-releasing intravaginal ring by conducting in vitro, preclinical and clinical studies.

"Vaginally applied medications offer advantages over systemic drug delivery because they directly protect the site of HIV transmission in addition to the protection given by a woman's healthy vaginal bacteria," Dr. Richard Pyles, UTMB professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology, said in a statement. "This project will allow us, for the first time, to evaluate the impact of vaginally applied antiretroviral on the microbiome."

Intravaginal ring devices are relatively inexpensive on a per-patient, per-day basis compared with other treatments, and they are capable of both rapid and sustained drug delivery for at least a month, the UTMB release stated. The system is effective without refrigeration in resource-limited settings.

Prevention of HIV infection continues to be a global health priority. About 35 million people are currently living with HIV, according to the World Health Organization, with about 70 percent from sub-Saharan Africa.

HIV prevention using sustained-release drug delivery systems is especially appealing in the developing world compared to daily therapies, as adherence becomes a concern, UTMB researchers said.

- read the release