The world’s first herpes-killing vaginal gel may go on sale within two years, said its developer Starpharma Holdings Ltd., which plans to start patient studies on its effectiveness.
Starpharma is in discussions with “a number of groups” about trials of its VivaGel product in women at risk of contracting genital herpes, Chief Executive Officer Jackie Fairley said in an interview in Singapore, declining to identify the partners. The Melbourne-based company licensed its VivaGel- coated condoms in 2008 to SSL International Plc, maker of the world’s best-selling Durex brand.
No cure exists for genital herpes, a condition that infects about one in six Americans and produces painful sores and increases HIV transmission, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show. While other gels are being developed to prevent HIV infections, VivaGel is the only microbicide designed to stop herpes from spreading, Fairley said.
“Commercially it’s actually the herpes market which we think is a more important market” than that for HIV, she said May 27. “Because herpes is such a massive problem, particularly in the U.S., we think that the herpes opportunity alone is more than attractive enough.”
The company expects to complete the discussions on funding this year, before setting a date for trials to begin, Fairley said. Starpharma is also seeking public funding for separate studies of VivaGel aimed at preventing HIV infection, she said.
Starpharma shares ended trading unchanged at 54 Australian cents today and have declined 28 percent from a five-year high of 75 cents reached on Feb. 18.
Trials of microbicides have so far failed to prevent the spread of HIV, the world’s deadliest infectious disease, which kills about 2 million people each year, according to World Health Organization figures.
PRO 2000, a gel made by Endo Pharmaceuticals Holdings Inc. failed in a late-stage trial in December after an earlier study suggested it worked.
Carraguard, a gel produced from seaweed that was developed by New York-based nonprofit group Population Council, flopped in 2008. A year earlier, tests of a product called Ushercell, from Toronto-based Polydex Pharmaceuticals Ltd., were halted after more of the women who used it became infected with HIV than those who received a placebo.
A trial of VivaGel in 61 healthy, sexually active women showed the product was safe, Starpharma said in March. The company plans to study the product’s effectiveness against bacterial vaginosis, the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age, later this year, it said at the time.
Condoms are more effective at preventing HIV than genital herpes because the herpes virus is spread through sores on the skin.
Starpharma, which said in September 2008 that VivaGel is designed to halt both viruses, expects to start receiving royalties from condom maker SSL in 2011, Fairley said.
The company had A$23.7 million in cash as of Dec. 31 and doesn’t plan to use that money to fund its trials, Fairley said.