Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Microbicide offers double whammy against HIV and Herpes

The report of a microbicide gel that actually protects against HIV infection made waves earlier this week. Now comes news that the same product — which is based on the antiretroviral drug tenofovir — also reduces a woman’s risk of contracting herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2).

In a paper published online in Science on Monday, Quarraisha and Salim Abdool Karim, along with their colleagues, reported that the vaginal gel cut HIV infection by 39% compared to placebo. And yesterday, the husband-and-wife team behind the 889-women South African trial announced at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna that, among the 426 women who were HSV-2-negative before the trial began, half as many participants using the gel became infected with herpes compared with those in the placebo arm of the study.

A precursor compound to tenofovir called adefovir currently exists to treat HSV-2 infection. But tenofovir, which blocks viral replication, is only approved for the treatment of HIV. Both drugs are marketed by Foster City, California-based Gilead Sciences.

Robert Grant, a clinical virologist at the University of California–San Francisco, applauded the study authors for thinking to check both HIV and HSV-2 infection levels in their study. “It goes to show that sometimes you learn unexpected things from well-designed science projects," he told ScienceNOW. “It’s a nice example of how prevention interventions can synergize with each other.”

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