At a conference this fall in Chicago, doctors and scientists were wowed by a new product aimed at preventing HIV transmission: an intravaginal ring filled the antiretroviral drug tenofovir.
This new HIV weapon was introduced by researchers at the University of Utah and Eastern Virginia Medical School, who describe the plastic ring, which holds the tenofovir gel and releases it inside the vaginal canal, as simple and cheap to produce. The ring’s plastic tubing is novel in that it allows water-soluble drugs such as tenofovir to be absorbed into the body.
“This ring is a breakthrough design because it is highly adaptable to almost any drug,” lead researcher Patrick Kiser said in a statement. “The amount of drug delivered each day is the same and the release rate can be modified easily if needed.”
While some studies have shown a tenofovir topical gel to be effective in bringing down transmission rates, success is tied to regular usage. The university researchers believe the ring will increase adherence. One ring releases up to 10 milligrams of tenofovir each day for at least 90 days.
Researchers see the ring as an alternative to Truvada, a combination pill that includes tenofovir and emtricitabine that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), or prevention therapy for those considered high-risk for HIV (which could include sex workers but also anyone in a relationships with an HIV-positive partner).
There are concerns—namely, with possible discomfort. Pills are obviously easier to take, and a topical gel can be applied when a woman knows she’s going to have sex. But the researchers see possibilities with combining their ring with contraceptives, therefore creating a powerful tool that can prevent HIV transmission and unwanted pregnancies at the same time.