Coming soon: the condom that prevents HIV

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Within a few months, we Australians may be able to buy a condom that attacks HIV, HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Considering our country’s rates of HIV infection are at a 20-year high, with 1253 diagnoses recorded last year alone, this updated form of contraception could have a revolutionary impact on sexual health. To make this news even better, it’s an all-Aussie innovation.

The condom’s viral-fighting weapon is a lubricant called VivaGel, which has been developed by Australian biotech firm Starpharma. Lab tests indicate the gel can attack and inactivate up to 99.9 per cent of infections like HIV, genital herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), meaning it could reduce their transmission.

VivaGel’s effiiciency comes from the small amount (0.5 per cent) astodrimer sodium it contains – a drug that was specifically designed to combat HIV.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has given Starpharma the go-ahead to use the gel in condoms, and in coming months it will be incorporated in a line of Ansell condoms to be sold across Australia.

The product isn’t only making waves in Australia. Earlier this year, authorities gave Starpharma approval to license VivaGel to the leading marketer of condoms in Japan, Okamoto; and last week they received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to undertake clinical trials of the gel as a treatment for bacterial vaginosis.

In an interview with the ABC, Starpharma’s chief executive Dr Jackie Fairley reiterated that condoms are not 100 per cent foolproof in preventing STIs or pregnancy, but believes VivaGel could help reduce risk of infection.

“[A]nything that you can do to reduce the number of virus particles by inactivating them with a substance like VivaGel would reduce reduce that overall viral load,” she said.

Although the firm isn’t planning to develop VivaGel as an individual product yet, they haven’t ruled it out.