S.Africa eager to see speedy roll-out of AIDS gel

* Vaginal gel results cause excitement at AIDS conference

* S.African health minister eager to see gel used soon

By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent

VIENNA, July 20 (BestGrowthStock) – South Africa is considering
rolling out use of a vaginal gel which can protect women against
HIV during sex before it is officially licensed by drug
regulators, the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.

Speaking at an international AIDS conference in Vienna,
Aaron Motsoaledi said the need was so great for effective HIV
prevention measures in his country — where 1,000 people die
from AIDS-related illnesses each day — that his ministry was
keen to act on early evidence of the gel’s success.

“We are very interested in it. We believe in an
evidence-based approach and if scientists say this thing is
going to work, then we will definitely be looking at it,”
Motsoaledi told Reuters when asked if his government was
planning to move ahead with the gel before it is licensed.

“So far, evidence is showing that it is … very promising.”

Researchers said on Monday that the gel, which is known as a
microbicide and contains a prescription drug from U.S. drugmaker
Gilead Sciences (GILD.O: ), can sharply reduce HIV infections in
women who use it before and after sex. [ID:nN19129341]

The findings caused great excitement among the 20,000
scientists, activists and HIV positive people gathered for a
biennial international conference on AIDS in Vienna.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations
AIDS group UNAIDS described the trial as ground-breaking and WHO
director Margaret Chan said she would work to speed up access to
the product if further results show it is safe and effective.

While there is no actual product available yet, researchers
who led the study, which was funded by the South African
government and USAID, said making the gel and the applicators
needed to apply it is likely to be relatively cheap and easy.

Anthony Fauci, of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases, one of the world’s most respected
scientific experts on HIV, said countries with the greatest need
should be able to move forward with using new HIV/AIDS medicines
without having to wait for regulators such as the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration to license them.

He also said he could see no reason why the U.S.
Presidential AIDS campaign fund, PEPFAR, would not be free to
decide to pay for such a gel for the use in developing countries
even before it gets approval from drugs regulators.

“Judgments will have to be made by individual nations based
on their need for such an approach as to how they will use the
(trial) data to utilise the product,” he told a reporters.

“And I don’t necessarily think that there has to be a direct
link between something that is approved by the FDA and something
that PEPFAR will pay for.”

Results of the South African trial, which involved 889
women, showed the gel reduced HIV infections in women by 39
percent over two and a half years — the first time such an
approach has protected against sexual transmission of the virus.

Researchers are already working on another trial larger
which will involve 5,000 women in South Africa, Malawi, Uganda
and Zimbabwe, to further test the gel’s safety and efficacy.

Investing Research

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

S.Africa eager to see speedy roll-out of AIDS gel