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Preventative HIV gel proven ineffective

A study by the Microbicides Development Programme (MDP) has concluded that proposed anti-HIV gel, PRO 2000, does not prevent the virus

A study by the Microbicides Development Programme (MDP) in Africa has concluded that proposed anti-HIV gel, PRO 2000, does not prevent the virus.

The four-year-trial, funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFiD) involved over 9,000 women across four African countries, but was unable to show any significant difference in the risk of HIV infection between those women given the vaginal microbicide and those given a placebo.

With condom promotion alone proving ineffective in controlling the epidemic, hopes were with the microbicide – a gel to be used before sexual intercourse – as a cost-effective method in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

These expectations were raised following a smaller US-led trial of the gel in March which found a 30 per cent reduction in infections between women given the gel and those given a placebo, though the number of women actually infected with HIV overall was too small for the results to prove conclusive.

The larger African trial though saw 130 infections among those who used PRO 2000 compared with 123 among those who didn't, confirming the microbicide's ineffectiveness.

The trial's chief investigator, Dr Sheena McCormack of the MRC described the result as "disheartening" but also found some positives: "Nevertheless we know this is an important result and it shows clearly the need to undertake trials which are large enough to provide definitive evidence for whether or not a product works."

Professor Jonathan Weber, co-chair of the MDP programme management board from the Division of Medicine at Imperial College London, was also disappointed by the results, but gave his hopes for further HIV research:

"There are many research groups exploring different avenues to tackle HIV; it is a slow process, but we are making progress. Now that we know this microbicide is not the answer, we can concentrate on other treatments that might be."

The trial also aimed to spread information about safe sex and the risks of HIV, with one South African participant saying: "We learnt a lot about caring for ourselves, such as using condoms. We also learnt to encourage others to test for HIV and we gained confidence in helping those who were already infected."

The results of the study will be submitted for presentation at international conferences in 2010, as well as for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.


16th December 2009


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