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US firms offer AIDS compounds royalty-free

Search for effective HIV prevention tool boosted as Merck and BMS sign public–private deal
Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) have offered experimental compounds royalty-free to the non-profit International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) so they can develop, manufacture and distribute gels or creams to help prevent HIV infection in the developing world.

In a groundbreaking public-private partnership, BMS has offered worldwide rights to one compound to IPM, while Merck retains the right to commercialise three of its compounds if clinical trials in the developed world are successful.

The drugs belong to the family of entry-inhibitor compounds that block HIV from invading human cells. They will be tested initially as microbicides, experimental AIDS drugs formulated as vaginal creams or gels, designed to reduce the risk of infection during sexual intercourse.

Microbicides are increasingly being considered as a useful form of protection against HIV transmission for women whose partners refuse to use a condom. A vaccine for the AIDS virus is thought to be at the very least, ten years away.

"The search for an effective microbicide is crucial to providing women with more options to protect themselves against HIV infection," said Dr Peter Piot, executive director of the United Nations AIDS organisation UNAIDS.

IPM chief executive Zeda Rosenberg said the agreements marked a "turning point" in the pharma industry’s commitment to developing a safe and effective microbicide.

Recent studies have found that the Merck and BMS compounds protected some macaque monkeys from infection with a virus similar to HIV.

30th September 2008

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