The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charitable organisation set up by the founder of the giant Microsoft computer empire, has given $20 million to a team of researchers investigating whether Carraguard, a red algae gel, can effectively reductive the transmission of HIV.
The grant was awarded to the Population Council, which is to start large-scale trials of Carraguard on 6,000 women in Africa.
Carraguard is a carrageenan-based gel developed at the Council's Center for Biomedical Research. Carrageenan is commonly used as a thickener in foods and as an emulsifier in topical creams and lotions. The microbicide is designed to substantially reduce transmission of HIV, and possibly other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), when used in the vagina or rectum. If proven effective, such products could offer a powerful new prevention tool in the fight against AIDS, the Population Council said.
The Council began studying the transmission of HIV in the mid 1980s, and began developing microbicides in the early 1990s.
AIDS experts are increasingly acknowledging microbicide development as a critical prevention approach, the Council said. "We are thrilled that the Gates Foundation has recognized this potential. Many women cannot ensure the monogamy of their sexual partners, nor can they always negotiate condom use," said Linda Martin, president of the Population Council. "And the development of a vaccine has not gone as quickly as we all had hoped."
Population Council researchers aim to develop a microbicide that will be widely available, stable across temperature ranges, and affordable even to the world's poorest women.
The African trial will start in the second half of the year and is expected to last about four years.