The NIH awarded a $20 million grant toward development of an intravaginal ring capable of delivering antiretroviral drugs at the point of infection, according to a press release.
The collaborative effort is led by the Oak Crest Institute of Science and will include research teams from the CDC, Johns Hopkins medical institutions, University of Texas Medical Branch and others.
“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,” Richard Pyles, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, said in a press release. “This project will allow us, for the first time, to evaluate the impact of vaginally applied antiretroviral on the microbiome.”
The controlled application of multiple drug combinations through intravaginal rings has only recently become possible as a result of Oak Crest’s “pod-intravaginal ring platform.” While combinations of three antiretroviral drugs have been shown to be highly successful at treating HIV/AIDS, the platform is the first to simultaneously deliver five independent drugs vaginally, according to the release. What’s more, the modular design of the ring allows researchers to quickly determine the optimal antiretroviral dosage.
“This program will allow us … to rigorously test a large group of antiretroviral drugs in a systematic fashion so that we can determine what combination is best for preventing sexual HIV via vaginal delivery,” Marc Baum, PhD, of Oak Crest Institute of Science, said in a press release. “Our technology platform also has the crucial advantage of scalability in manufacturing as the majority of the fabrication steps are identical regardless of the drug substances in the combination. This scalability and potential for economical manufacture will be crucial for any product to be used in the developing world.”
Sustained-release drug delivery systems such as these are especially useful in developing countries where the disease is most prevalent. They are less costly, do not require refrigeration or daily application and can sustain drug delivery for at least 1 month.
“Our goal is to empower women to protect themselves from HIV infection with the best biomedical solution,” Baum said. “This process is especially important when considering that for each year we delay, close to a million women in sub-Saharan Africa alone could become infected.”