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Experts urge work on anti-HIV gels

Experts urge work on anti-HIV gels

Experts called Thursday for urgent work on HIV-killing gels that could help protect women who can't rely on condoms. With research over the past two years showing that an HIV vaccine is still a long way off, HIV-killing microbicide gels and creams, female condoms, and diaphragms that could bolster prevention have meanwhile become more of a priority. Much of Thursday's focus at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, was on women, who are now nearly half of the world's 38 million people living with HIV, and their infection rates in many regions are climbing much faster than men's. With many cultures denying women the power and confidence to demand that partners wear condoms, scientists are addressing ways that women can protect themselves. Vaginal gels, which can be applied long before intercourse and used without a partner's knowledge, could be such a way, and Zeda Rosenberg, chief executive of International Partnership for Microbicides, urged that more resources be poured into the effort. "Unlike vaccines, there has been virtually no private sector investment in microbicide development," Rosenberg said. "The science is there. The technology is there, and most of all, the passion and dedication of those in the field is palpable." Early versions of these gels and creams would attack a broad spectrum of bacteria, viruses, and perhaps even human cells. Among complicating factors for developers are that microbicides also can kill cells in the vagina that help block HIV, Rosenberg said. Rosenberg says microbicides may initially be only about 30% effective, but added that second-generation products already in early development would more specifically target HIV and be more powerful. She says that $1 billion is needed in research over the next five years if a viable product is to be made available commercially by 2014. Other experts think it will take longer. "It will certainly be more than 10, probably 15 to 20 years, if ever, before we have an effective microbicide," said Frederick Altice, an infectious diseases expert at Yale University. (AP)

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