amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

February 2000: Grants Launch New Microbicides Initiative

In February 2000, amfAR announced $875,000 in new grants to support innovative biomedical research on microbicides to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV. Microbicides are synthetic or natural substances that can be applied either vaginally or rectally to neutralize HIV or suppress the sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that often facilitate HIV infection.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, Director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for AIDS Virus Research and amfAR's Senior Scientific Consultant for Programs, "Women are increasingly at risk of HIV infection, and the research made possible with these grants will help speed the development of a safe, effective topical gel or cream that prevents HIV transmission."

Women now account for 46% of all adult HIV/AIDS cases worldwide, and in sub-Saharan Africa, fully 55% of HIV-positive adults are women. In the U.S., the proportion of AIDS cases reported among women increased from 7% in 1985 to 23% in 1998, and women now account for nearly one-third of all new HIV infections. Worldwide, 85% of all instances of HIV transmission involve heterosexual intercourse.

"Given both the biological and social vulnerability of women to HIV infection and the rapidly increasing rate of transmission from men to women through vaginal intercourse, microbicides would offer a potent new weapon in the prevention of HIV/AIDS," said Dr. Mathilde Krim, Founding Co-Chair and Chairman of the Board of amfAR.

To date, no microbicides have proved safe and effective in preventing HIV and other STDs. Spermicidal products containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9) or other biodetergents have inactivated HIV in the test tube, but the harshness of these chemicals can exacerbate genital ulcers and may even facilitate HIV transmission. The challenge is to develop substances that block HIV and other STDs without destroying the sensitive mucosal linings of the vaginal and anal tracts. The ideal microbicide would be a gel, cream, suppository, or film that is applied or inserted prior to sex, lasts several hours after application, and would allow a woman to become pregnant if she so chooses. There are currently 23 microbicide products are in clinical testing, but neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the federal government is investing significantly in microbicide research.

The ten researchers awarded grants by amfAR’s Board of Directors are:

  • Michel G. Bergeron, M.D., F.R.C.P.
  • Zhiwei Chen, D.V.M., Ph.D., The Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center
  • A. Rene Crombie, Ph.D., Weill Medical College of Cornell University
  • Erik De Clercq, M.D., Ph.D., Katholieke Universiteit Leuven-Rega Institute
  • Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague, Ph.D., The University of Arizona
  • David F. Katz, Ph.D., Duke University
  • Fred Krebs, Ph.D., The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
  • Michael A. Parniak, Ph.D., Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital
  • Fatih M. Uckun, M.D., Ph.D., Hughes Institute
  • Guido Vanham, M.D., Ph.D., Institute of Tropical Medicine