New Method for Preventing Pregnancy, HIV and Herpes Looks Promising

This morning, I read about a new idea for contraception that looks pretty amazing. It's a ring that delivers levonorgestrel, a hormone that is used in many birth control pills, and tenofovir, an anti-viral drug. It is placed in the vagina in the same way that a diaphragm or female condom is, and can be left in place for up to 90 days. During that time, it delivers a steady dose of the two drugs. Researchers have just developed what they believe will be a workable delivery system. The ring now needs to go through clinical trials.

This gives me so much hope. For more than 20 years, small groups - mostly not-for-profits, have been working hard to fund research into developing an effective microbicide, some sort of device or compound that can be used relatively inconspicuously that can help reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Many different ideas have come forward but none of them have made it to market, mainly because there is just not enough money to take them all the way from development to trial and approval. You see, the drug companies aren't interested in microbicides because they would benefit mainly poor women in developing countries. If this new ring is approved, it would be the first effective option for STI prevention that doesn't involve condoms. I am all for condoms but the simple fact is that many women are in situations where they are just not able to use them. Condoms also cannot completely prevent the transmission of herpes. This would be an amazing step forward.

My cynical side won't let me get too excited about it though. There are still far too many hurdles. First, there is a long way to go. This device hasn't even made it to the first round of trials. As it goes through trials, there are a lot of concerns to be addressed such as whether the doses are correct, if there are unexpected side effects, and if it is truly effective. Once those things have been addressed, there is the major issue of getting it produced and onto market. The article from Science Daily does not mention the involvement of a drug company. If there is no pharmaceutical to take it on, there will have to be government involvement to fund the large amount of money it takes to mass produce such a product. That is highly unlikely. If a drug company does take it on, they will want to get their investment back. That means that the ring will be costly. That could potentially put it out of reach of the women who need it most.

There is a long way to go, but I take comfort in the fact that at least someone is working on this and has put enough effort into it to get this far. Perhaps one day we will see an effective alternative to condoms.