After decades, there may soon be a contraceptive alternative to condoms that can be used as protection for preventing unwanted pregnancy and protection against the transmission of the HIV virus. Researchers at Northwestern University have submitted their invention for FDA approval of human trials. The intravaginal ring helps to prevent pregnancy and releases low doses of an antiretroviral drug that lowers the risk of both HIV and genital herpes.
The ring was devised by Patrick Kiser, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. Kiser developed the dual-purpose ring to offer women more control over preventing both disease and pregnancy. His team at Northwestern worked in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Utah, and CONRAD, an organization working to improve reproductive health in developing countries.
Kiser's research group spent five years developing the two-inch ring, which releases doses of the contraceptive levonorgestral along with the common antiretroviral HIV medication tenofovir when inserted into the vagina. Women are able to insert the ring themselves and can leave it in place for up to 90 days. The medications used in the ring are low dose, but have a proven history of being safe and effective. The anti-HIV drug tenofovir is the first HIV-prevention drug approved by the FDA, and because the contraceptive ring releases it at the exact site where transmission of the virus would occur, lower doses than the pill form of the drug are effective.
Excellent results through extensive testing on animals have lead the team to submit an Investigational Drug Application to the FDA. On approval, they are ready to launch a small clinical human trial in the U.S. before progressing to safety and efficacy trials. Kiser believes that the device could be approved for general use in five to seven years. He says the ring was designed for the dire health needs of women in low-income countries, but will resonate with women everywhere who want to control their own reproductive health.