Earlier today, British researchers announced a disappointing setback in the fight against HIV: The anti-HIV gel PRO 2000 was found to be completely ineffective against preventing HIV.
Earlier this year, researchers announced their hopes for an HIV-vaccine, only to encounter significant backlash when it was revealed that the vaccine was probably not as effective as initially published. The reduction in HIV infections found in the vaccine trial was only 26% - not enough to be statistically significant. Similarly, despite an early trial in March, which found that the use of PRO 2000 could reduce infections by 30%, the Medical Research Council announced today that the early findings were inconclusive, and further research reveals that the microbicide offers no protection.
Dr. Sheena McCormack from the MRC expressed her disappointment at the outcome. Researchers had hoped that the vaginal gel would give women the power to protect themselves against HIV without the cooperation of a partner: since many men refuse to wear condoms, the gel would have served as a good alternative. Trials in Africa indicated that both men and women found its use acceptable. But the latest trial of over 3,000 women in Uganda showed that 4.0% of the women on the placebo gel became infected, versus 4.1% of those given the microbicide gel. "It very clearly doesn't work," said McCormack. "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," she added.
Professor Gita Ramjee, who works at a clinic in South Africa and has conducted five separate trials of the gel, reports that at least the women involved in the trial received health care they otherwise wouldn't have. But she still felt "very despondent" at having to tell her staff that the microbicide doesn't work. "A lot of my staff are HIV positive and do a lot of counseling and they hear the pleas of women who say we desperately need something to prevent HIV infection because our partners don't want to wear condoms." Fortunately, there may be hope yet. Participants report that the gel was easy to use, and generally enjoyable for both partners. "It's time to give up on this type of chemical, but not on the idea," said McCormac.
Anti-HIV Gel Hopes Dashed By Trial Results [Guardian]
Vaginal HIV Gel Fails To Cut Risk [BBC]
Aids Research Suffers Setback As Big Trial Of 'Infection Blocking' Gel Fails [Times]
Anti-HIV Vaginal Gel Fails [New Scientist]