The Population Council is developing a griffithsin-containing microbicide to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The Population Council has been a leader in research on and development of microbicides since the 1990s. Today, we are developing user-controlled prevention methods that provide broad-spectrum protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can increase susceptibility to HIV.
Current HIV prevention methods include abstinence, condoms, and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis with antiretrovirals (ARVs) like Truvada®, which are also used to treat HIV.
There is some concern that the use of ARV-based products for HIV prevention could foster the development or spread of drug-resistant strains of the virus that would compromise subsequent ARV treatment.
Use of ARVs for HIV prevention requires HIV screening before and during use, which may pose a barrier to access in low-resource/high-demand settings. A non-ARV microbicide could eliminate the need for HIV screening, help to reduce the emergence of drug-resistant HIV types, and be provided over-the-counter.
In 2013, the Council was awarded a cooperative agreement from PEPFAR, and administered by USAID, to investigate griffithsin (GRFT) as a vaginal microbicide. GRFT is a naturally occurring protein isolated from algae that has potent activity against HIV and other STIs. GRFT for drug development is produced in tobacco plants, and initial pre-clinical testing has shown it to be safe and non-irritating in vitro (in cells and tissue) and in vivo (in animals). Council researchers are developing a GRFT-containing microbicide gel for pre-clinical and clinical studies. Results from these studies will inform the development of other delivery systems, including an intravaginal ring to provide protection immediately and up to 90 days and a fiber delivery system that can be used to provide immediate protection.
Microbicides that protect women and men against HIV and other STIs will make vital contributions to global public health and help advance the goal of an AIDS-free future.