Spermicide Cream Actually
Worsens HIV Infection Risk
By Maggie Fox - Reuters Health and Science Correspondent
DURBAN, South Africa (Reuters) - Researchers hoping to find a way for women to protect themselves from AIDS infection were disappointed to report on Wednesday that tests showed one product worsened the risk.
The product, a spermicide called nonoxynol-9, did not protect women in trials in Benin, Ivory Coast, Thailand and South Africa from infection with HIV, a team of United Nations-sponsored researchers said.
``We were dismayed to find out that the group using the N-9 gel had a higher rate of HIV infection than the group using a placebo,'' Dr Joseph Perriens, who heads the UNAIDS microbicide effort, told the 13th International AIDS Conference.
He said the active group had 59 infections, while a second group using a dummy gel had 41.
``We were extremely disappointed,'' Lut van Damme, a researcher at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, told a news conference.
She said researchers may be forced to suspend other trials involving the product, marketed under the trade name Advantage S by U.S.-based Columbia Laboratories Inc.
``The long-term safety of nonoxynol-9 as a family planning method may have to be re-evaluated,'' she said.
Howard Levine, director of research at Columbia Laboratories, said it was wrong to call the product unsafe.
``If we take it one step further and scare women into thinking nonoxynol-9 is dangerous ... in a single use per day, we are doing a disservice to women,'' he said.
Activists have been clamoring for the development of a microbicide -- a gel or cream sometimes described as an ''invisible condom'' or a ``safegel'' that women and men could use to protect themselves not only from HIV, but from other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea.
``A microbicide can allow women to protect themselves and their partners from infection without necessarily having to secure male cooperation,'' Awa Coll-Seck, director of policy, strategy and research for UNAIDS, said.
Van Damme said although the trials may spell the end of nonoxynol-9 as a potential microbicide, they did show that women -- in this case prostitutes at high risk of HIV infection -- would use such a product.
Money From Gates Foundation
One possible reason for the findings was that the women who used the spermicide had more lesions than the women who did not, Van Damme said.
``If you use nonoxynol-9 (to protect from HIV), you are probably wasting your money. You may possibly be wasting your life,'' Perriens said. But, he added: ``There is nothing in this trial to suggest you should stop using it as a spermicide.''
UNAIDS said it was pressing for the development of other products.
``We know that there are more products to come,'' Perriens said. ``This shouldn't be the end of the field ... One of the things holding up development, increasingly, is a lack of private sector interest in this area.''
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it would try to help with a $25 million grant for microbicide research.
The money, part of $90 million in grants the foundation announced on Wednesday, will go to the CONRAD Consortium for Industrial Collaboration in Contraceptive Research (CICCR), a program at the Eastern Virginia Medical School.
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