South African HIV gel trial scoops USAid award

30 January 2014

The Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) was named on Monday as the winner of the US Agency for International Development (USAid) Science and Technology Pioneers Prize for its trial showing that an antiretroviral vaginal gel can help to protect women against HIV.

“The prize, which is being inaugurated this year, recognises excellence in the use of science and technology to solve development challenges,” South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology said in a statement following the announcement of the award on Monday.

The Caprisa 004 Tenofovir gel trial, conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, was funded by USAid and the department and conducted by a group of South African and US researchers.

According to the department, the trial showed that a microbicide gel containing 1% Tenofovir, an antiretroviral usually used for treatment, was 39% effective in preventing HIV infection in women when used before and after sex.

“It also had the welcome and unexpected benefit of 51% effectiveness in preventing genital herpes infections,” the department said, adding that these protective effects were even higher for those women who used the gel most of the time.

The trial results were released at the 2010 International Aids Conference in Vienna, Austria, drawing a rare standing ovation from the scientists attending the meeting.

The follow-on confirmatory trial, Facts 001, involving up to 2 900 women, is currently under way at nine research clinics across South Africa.

“Research on the gel shows how fruitful international partnerships between US and South African scientists can be, in this case addressing one of the biggest challenges facing our country – the Aids epidemic,” Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said.

“Over the past decade, Caprisa has played an instrumental role in HIV and Aids prevention and treatment research, making some groundbreaking discoveries. We commend the outstanding work they have done in the quest to find an affordable and effective HIV and Aids prevention technologies.”

Caprisa associate director Quarraisha Abdool Karim, the leader of the research team for the trial, said the team was “honoured and humbled by this recognition. We will be using the $200 000 prize on research to understand why and how HIV spreads so rapidly in young women in South Africa.”

David Stanton, director of USAid’s office of HIV/Aids, described the Caprisa 004 trial as “a key milestone in an ongoing journey towards an approved microbicide product for women, putting us one step closer to an Aids-free generation.”

According to the Department of Science and Technology, Tenofovir works by preventing HIV from growing inside human cells. Taken in pill form, Tenofovir is a common component of various three-drug cocktails that are used to treat HIV infections.

“The results of the Caprisa trial indicate that Tenofovir formulated as a topical gel and inserted into the female genital tract also has great promise for use in the prevention of HIV and herpes simplex virus type 2,” the department said.

SAinfo reporter