CONRAD receives USAID Pioneers Prize for developing tenofovir gel to reduce HIV infection in women

CONRAD, a leading reproductive health-research organization based at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), today announced that they are a winner of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Science and Technology Pioneers Prize for their work in developing tenofovir gel. The vaginal gel, containing the antiretroviral tenofovir, was proven to reduce HIV and HSV-2 infections in women in the landmark CAPRISA 004 trial. Offered for the first time this year by the USAID Office of Science and Technology, the prize recognizes excellence in the use of science and technology to solve the latest development challenges.

CONRAD, along with fellow Pioneer Prize winners CAPRISA and FHI 360, worked with support from USAID and the South African government to prove the concept that a vaginal gel containing antiretrovirals used before and after sex could work at the site of infection. The gel was tested on 889 women at two sites in South Africa by Drs. Salim Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim and the successful results were announced at the 2010 International AIDS Society conference in Vienna, Austria in 2010.

CONRAD Scientific and Executive Director Gustavo Doncel, M.D., Ph.D. said, "It is an incredible honor for CONRAD to be one of the recipients of the first ever USAID Pioneers Prize, particularly considering the numerous worthy projects that USAID and PEPFAR support. This was truly a team effort led by brilliant and dedicated researchers at CAPRISA who implemented the trial with the assistance of organizations such as FHI360, Gilead Sciences and CONRAD." Follow on collaborations between CONRAD and CAPRISA resulting from the USAID-funded study continue until the present.

Jeff Spieler, Ph.D. (Hon), MSc, Senior Technical Advisor for Science and Technology in the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID and former CONRAD Executive Director Henry Gabelnick, Ph.D. were early supporters of tenofovir gel and were instrumental in securing the funding to move forward with the trial. "We took a risk," says Dr. Spieler. "Without risk you can't have big wins and taking prudent risks is what science is all about."

A confirmatory study of tenofovir gel called FACTS 001, sponsored by CONRAD and funded by USAID, the South African government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is currently ongoing and if the results again show protection, the gel has been fast tracked by the FDA for regulatory approval.

Globally, 35.3 million people are currently infected with HIV, and in South Africa, prevalence of HIV has increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.3% in 2012. Young, single women account for the highest rate of new infections, and condom use in South Africa has fallen in all age groups. The need to develop and implement prevention options for those at highest risk of infection continues to be a top public health research priority.

At the close of 2013, CONRAD was awarded up to $80 million over the course of five years from the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through USAID. The awards will fund three areas of HIV prevention research including: licensure and implementation of tenofovir gel, development of novel on-demand and longer-acting microbicide leads, and development of objective measures of product adherence for vaginal and rectal microbicides.

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