The National Institutes of Health just granted $20 million to two organizations, to develop a new system for preventing HIV infection in women.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), in collaboration with those at the Oak Crest Institute of Science, are working to create an intravaginal ring which can deliver a blast of antiretroviral drugs (ARTs) powerful enough to stop HIV from invading a woman’s body. Researchers have been studying HIV/AIDS for over four decades now. Yet, the fight against the virus is just as integral as at any time in the past. Lots of headway has been made, recently. The innovation here is called a “pod-intravaginal ring platform.”
Researchers have proven that the ring can deliver five potent ARTs simultaneously, eliminating any would-be HIV invaders. The device can also control the dosage of each independently, which sets it apart from similar systems. The ring will be put through rigorous testing to determine what the best drug combination is and at what dosages.
Prototypes can be easily made and altered due to the ring’s modular design. In terms of manufacturing, the ring has scalability which experts say allows for easy and cost-effective production and transfer to the developing world, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic still rages on. Today, ARTs are available in these regions. But they are costly, and availability and adherence to daily use can be an issue.
Once implanted, the ring can administer medicine all by itself. It is also less costly in terms of a per-patient cost and from a day-to-day standpoint. The ring can sustain rapid and consistent delivery of ARTs for one month’s time, rather than having to take a daily pill. Another advantage, refrigeration is not required. This is a significant improvement in resource-strapped areas of the world. A UTMB interdisciplinary team will study the ring. It will be led by assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology Dr. Kathleen Vincent and Dr. Richard Pyles, professor of immunology and pediatrics and microbiology. They will test the safety and efficacy of this system on a “novel 3-D human vaginal culture model” developed by Dr. Pyles team.