A foundation backed by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has donated 100 million dollars to research into vaginal gels and other products which could help dramatically cut HIV infection rates.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made the donation to the Maryland-based International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) after clinical trails of one product posted "encouraging results", the IPM said.
Although an effective microbicide does not yet exist, health policy makers have high hopes that the gels, creams or films -- which block or kill pathogens -- will soon be ready for widespread use.
"Safe and effective microbicides have the potential to save millions of lives by giving women an HIV prevention option that they can initiate and control," a IPM statement said.
Last month, the US National Institutes of Health reported that a phase two clinical trial had shown microbicide candidate PRO2000 to be 30 percent more effective in preventing HIV than other products.
IPM said it would use the money to further clinical trials. "IPM will bring pioneering HIV prevention technologies into 10 new clinical studies this year, including long-acting vaginal gels and vaginal rings that could provide sustained protection for up to a month."
According to World Health Organization estimates, more than 33 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2007. In the same year more than two million people died of AIDS and 2.5 million more became infected with HIV. Two thirds of infections are in sub-Saharan Africa.
But the apparent success of PRO2000 has prompted new-found hope that effective microbicides are more than a pipe dream.
PRO2000 is based on the same anti-retroviral medicines that have proved successful in treating millions of HIV sufferers around the world.
The results of a phase three clinical trial of PRO2000 involving 9,400 women in Africa is expected in August.
On Tuesday the British government also announced it would donated around 30 million dollars to IPM, part of a 220-million-pound (320-million-dollar) disease prevention program by the country's Department for International Development.