An intravaginal ring that could help prevent HIV infection could be ready for human trials sometime next year, according to researchers at the Population Council, an international nonprofit working on HIV and AIDS research.
The ring would be nearly identical to contraceptive vaginal rings such as NuvaRing and uses MIV-150, an antiviral compound, and zinc acetate, a compound that enhances MIV-150's effectiveness, to neutralize HIV. In animal trials with macaques, a type of monkey, the ring was more than 80 percent effective in preventing SHIV (a combination of human and monkey versions of HIV) transmission.
Researchers say the ring would likely be used for 90 days at a time. Contraceptive rings are generally used for 21 days at a time. A gel version of the compound is also being tested and could potentially be used by both women and men (gay and straight) if applied before and after sex.
Researcher Melissa Robbiani says that ideally, another anti-viral compound would be included to increase the ring's effectiveness and reduce the chance of the HIV virus growing resistant. But she says women are anxious for anything that will lower their risk of getting HIV and that the ring is "the first step towards developing something more potent."
"A lot of women are unable to get their partners to wear condoms—with this, women could protect themselves even if they're not using condoms," she says. "It's empowering women so they're not dependent on their male partners to protect them. Any effect would be good."
Early trials explored the possibility of delivering the drug as a pill, but weren't successful. But during that study, Robbiani says there were "no indication of side effects" and "no safety issues."
Thomas Zydowsky, one of the researchers involved in making the ring, says Phase I human trials will likely begin next year, and the organization is "actively working" on combining the ring's anti-HIV effect with a contraceptive. If successful, researchers may be able to include other compounds that protect against a wider spectrum of sexually transmitted diseases.
"We know cost is an issue. We're trying to keep costs low enough so that this can be used in both developing and developed countries," he says. "We're also trying to add value to it—we can maybe broaden the spectrum to protect against HIV, herpes, and HPV. If we can do that, that's something that has a lot of value."
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org