Skip to content

Sexual Conditions Health Center

On the Horizon: A New Way to Rein in Sexually Transmitted Disease

Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Jan. 3, 2001 -- They're an effective means of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but condoms can't do any good unless they're used consistently and properly. The fact they're not has created demand for a new class of products, some 60 of which are in various stages of human testing. They are topical microbicides -- germ killers -- designed for application directly to the genitals.

"We're talking about microbicides as a method that expands the range of options for people who cannot or will not use condoms," says Polly Harrison, PhD, director of the Alliance for Microbicide Development, an advocacy group based in Maryland. "We know consistent condom use is pretty low" especially in developing countries, she adds.

Harrison says the idea of these microbicides first surfaced in the late 1980s, when medical experts realized the HIV epidemic was not something confined to homosexual men. Researchers knew that older products used to kill sperm also showed activity against some sexually transmitted diseases. "That was what sort of kicked-off scientific work with microbicides," she says.

One of those compounds, nonoxynol-9, showed extreme promise in the lab as a way to kill off HIV. But a landmark study showed it might even lead to an increase in infections -- perhaps by irritating the tissue and making it more vulnerable to infection.

But now the drug pipeline is bulging with contenders. Harrison says the leading two, PRO-2000 and BufferGel, should enter the final phase of testing next summer. Four other products are set to enter earlier phases of testing, and another 50 compounds are in the earliest stages of development. More than 80 entities -- including small pharmaceutical firms, nonprofit groups, and public sector organizations -- are on the hunt for a marketable compound, she says.

One of them is Biosyn in Philadelphia, which is developing a vaginal gel called SAVVY. The reason: "There isn't presently a method women can use to prevent [sexually transmitted diseases] without the cooperation of their partner," says Business Development Manager Kathryn LaMaina. However, she says that doesn't mean SAVVY or any other microbicide product is a replacement for condoms. "That's certainly not advocated by anyone, particularly Biosyn. There is somewhat of a hierarchical order of prevention methods and condoms have always been at the top."

Today on WebMD

Sex Drive Killers 03
Slideshow
couple holding hands
Quiz
 
Couple in bed
Article
Condom Quiz
Quiz
 

HIV Myth Facts
Slideshow
STD Overview
Slideshow
 
Man tearing a condom packet
Quiz
things your guy wish you knew slideshow
Slideshow
 

Thoughtful man sitting on bed
Quiz
Girls Puberty 10
Quiz
 
Couple in bed
Article
Young couple holding hands
Quiz
 

WebMD Special Sections