September 8, 2008 / 8:03 PM / 11 years ago

USAID puts $100 million toward AIDS gel research

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agency for International Development has offered $100 million to the Eastern Virginia Medical School to work on a gel that might protect men and women from the AIDS virus, the school said on Monday.

The money, $20 million a year for five years, will be used to help pay for trials of several so-called microbicides — gels or creams that could be applied vaginally or rectally to protect people from infection.

While several experimental microbicides have failed, the team at Eastern Virginia Medical School’s CONRAD program is working on two using HIV drugs: Gilead Sciences Inc’s tenofovir and an experimental drug called UC781.

An estimated 33 million people have HIV, mostly in Africa. More than 60 percent of Africans with HIV are women who were infected by their husbands or other male sexual partners.

Most of the 2 million people who get HIV every year globally are women. Condoms prevent infection but many men refuse to use them. Experts say women, and some men, need a private way to protect themselves.

The award means USAID has given the program $160 million so far to develop a microbicide.

The CONRAD program, formerly known as Contraceptive Research and Development, was set up in 1986 by federal agencies to develop inexpensive products to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

A USAID spokeswoman said the agency gets about $40 million a year from Congress for microbicide development and funds many programs, including the Population Council, the International Partnership for Microbicides and others.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Mohammad Zargham

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