A monthly injection of an experimental anti-retroviral drug protected female monkeys from vaginal infection by a simian form
The research, which was published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, raises hopes for the development of a long-acting preexposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, drug that would guard against HIV infection during both anal and vaginal intercourse, according to scientists.
The experimental drug, GSK744 LA, was previously shown to be effective in protecting rhesus macaque monkeys against rectal infection by simian-human immunodeficiency virus, or SHIV.
On Wednesday, researchers said injections of the same drug protected 12 of 14 female macaques from vaginal SHIV infection, whereas 10 control monkeys who did not receive the drug were quickly infected.
"Our results ... highlight the promise of GSK744 LA as a next-generation PrEP candidate," wrote HIV researcher Jessica Radzio, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues.
"If proven safe and effective in human clinical trials, GSK744 LA may usher in a new way for PrEP delivery that parallels that of long-acting contraceptives."
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, continues to spread globally. At least 2.3 mllion new infections were recorded in 2012, while roughly half of all new cases occur in heterosexual women.
Although daily pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs like Truvada have been proven effective in preventing HIV infection, that effectiveness has been greatly limited by people's inability to keep up with a daily pill regimen.
For women in low- and middle-income nations, where females suffer the majority of HIV infections, impediments to the proper use of the drugs include HIV stigma, poor information, and lack of community support, researchers say.
Health officials hope they can solve this problem by creating a drug that can be taken far less frequently, and can be administered as a monthly shot, or via an intravaginal ring.
Researchers say they the recent study results are particuarly promising, because the same types of monkeys were used to demonstarte the effectiveness of existing PrEP medications. At the same time, initial human safety trials suggest the experimental drug can be given to human with few negative effects.