$7.2 Million Grant for Pitt to Develop Microbicides Against HIV/AIDS

Issue Date: 
December 14, 2009
Phalguni GuptaPhalguni Gupta

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) has received a five-year, $7.2 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop microbicides against HIV transmission. The grant will allow Pitt to test two microbicide formulations—a film and ring that release the active ingredient over time.

Microbicides are substances designed to prevent or reduce the sexual transmission of HIV when applied topically to the vagina or rectum. Currently, there are several microbicides being tested, but none has been proven effective. Testing of many products will likely be required before finding one that is safe and effective against HIV, as well as easy to use and acceptable to both sexual partners.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic remains uncontrolled in many regions in the world,” said principal investigator Phalguni Gupta, professor and assistant chair, Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, in GSPH. “In developing countries, HIV is most often spread through unprotected heterosexual intercourse, creating a great need for new ways to prevent transmission beyond the condom, whose use is often at the discretion of men.”

The project at Pitt will involve cell culture and animal studies of two microbicides, RC101 and CSIC, that target different stages of virus growth. RC101 inhibits entry of the virus into a cell, while CSIC works to inactivate an enzyme that the virus needs to grow after it has entered a cell. Study investigators will evaluate these microbicides in two formulations—a film delivery system inserted into the vagina and used for up to seven days, and a ring delivery system inserted on a monthly or periodic basis. They also plan to test the microbicides in the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases and bacterial vaginosis, a common vaginal infection.

“If proven effective, microbicides could have particular impact among women in developing countries, giving them the power to prevent sexually transmitted diseases,” Gupta said.

At the forefront of research on microbicides, the University of Pittsburgh also leads the National Institutes of Health-funded Microbicides Trial Network (MTN). Headquartered at Magee-Womens Research Institute in Pittsburgh, MTN is a global clinical trials network focused on preventing the sexual transmission of HIV.