An article in Pilot Online reported that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently awarded $80 million to Eastern Virginia Medical School’s (EVMS) CONRAD program for investigating products to prevent HIV/AIDS in developing countries. USAID will distribute the funds throughout the next five years. In 2008, USAID awarded EVMS $100 million for the same research CONRAD (a reproductive health research organization) is performing.
According to Dr. Gustavo Doncel, scientific and executive director of CONRAD, the funds will support three projects. One of these projects is continued research on a preventive topical gel or microbicide containing tenofovir, to reduce HIV transmission. The gel produced promising results in a 2011 clinical trial with 900 South African women. A larger clinical trial with 2,900 South African women is in progress. These funds will assist with the costs of that trial and for applications to regulatory agencies for distribution if the trial is successful. CONRAD hopes to apply for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration and South African regulatory agencies in 2016.
Funds also will support the development of other HIV prevention methods, such as a vaginal tablet and vaginal ring that would be effective for up to three months, as well as to support research that “encourages and monitors adherence” to these preventatives. A large problem for the researchers is producing a device that is simple and discreet to allow consistent use.
CONRAD is researching products that provide women the ability to protect themselves rather than having to depend on their partner to use protection. Also, CONRAD is researching combination products to prevent HIV and other STDs and function as a contraceptive. According to Doncel, since its creation in 1986, the program has received $500 million. Most of the donations came from USAID and other government agencies and some from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.