South African HIV/AIDS trial scoops USAID award

30 January 2014

The Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) 004 Tenofovir gel trial was today announced the winner of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Science and Technology Pioneers Prize. The prize, which is being inaugurated this year, recognises excellence in the use of science and technology to solve development challenges.

The CAPRISA 004 Tenofovir gel trial, conducted in KwaZulu-Natal, was funded by USAID and the South African Department of Science and Technology, and conducted by a group of South African and US researchers. It provided proof of concept that an antiretroviral gel used before and after sex can protect women against HIV. The microbicide gel, containing 1% Tenofovir, an antiretroviral usually used for treatment, was 39% effective in preventing HIV infection in women. It also had the welcome and unexpected benefit of 51% effectiveness in preventing genital herpes infections. These protective effects were even higher for those women who used the gel most of the time. The ultimate triumph came when the results were revealed to the world at the 2010 International AIDS Conference in Vienna, Austria. As the final results were announced, it led to a standing ovation, a rare occurrence at scientific meetings of this nature. The follow-on confirmatory trial, FACTS 001, involving up to 2 900 women is currently under way at nine research clinics across South Africa.

"Research on the gel shows how fruitful international partnerships between US and South African scientists can be, in this case addressing one of the biggest challenges facing our country – the AIDS epidemic. Over the past decade, CAPRISA has played an instrumental role in HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment research, making some groundbreaking discoveries. We commend the outstanding work they have done in the quest to find an effective HIV prevention technology for women," said Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom.

David Stanton, Director of USAID's Office of HIV/AIDS, remarked: "The CAPRISA 004 trial was a key milestone in an ongoing journey towards an approved microbicide product for women, putting us one step closer to an AIDS-free generation." Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Director of CAPRISA and leader of the research team for this trial, said: "The team is honoured and humbled by this recognition. We will be using the $200 000 (R2,2 million) prize on research to understand why and how HIV spreads so rapidly in young women in South Africa."

Tenofovir works by preventing HIV from growing inside human cells. Taken in pill form, Tenofovir is a common component of various three-drug cocktails that are used to treat HIV infections. The results of the CAPRISA trial indicate that Tenofovir formulated as a topical gel and inserted into the female genital tract also has great promise for use in the prevention of HIV and herpes simplex virus type 2.

Judith Annakie-Eriksen
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