Setback seen in anti-AIDS strategy
Researchers have halted two studies of an anti-AIDS vaginal gel in Africa and India after early results suggested it might raise the risk of HIV infection instead of lowering it.
It was “a disappointing and unexpected setback” to efforts to get a simple tool to protect women from the risk of AIDS through sex, the World Health Organization said.
In Africa, more than half of all new infections with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, involve women and girls. Scientists and groups like the Gates Foundation have long sought a method of protection women could use, even without their partners’ knowledge, because many men refuse to use condoms.
The studies were testing Ushercell, a gel containing cellulose sulfate, a cotton-based compound developed by Toronto-based Polydex Pharmaceuticals.
One study involving 1,500 women in South Africa, Benin, Uganda and India was stopped this week after an independent safety monitoring board saw more HIV infections among women using the gel than those given a dummy medication. The study was led by CONRAD, a Virginia-based health research group, and paid for by the United States Agency for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The second study of Ushercell, by Family Health International, involving 1,700 women in Nigeria, was stopped as a precaution.
Ushercell appeared safe and promising in 11 previous studies, mostly done in the U.S.