SEATTLE (AP) -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $60 million Monday to help scientists develop a cream or gel that prevents sexual transmission of the AIDS virus among women in developing countries.
The foundation made the donation to the International Partnership for Microbicides in Silver Spring, Md.
It is one of the largest the foundation has made for global health initiatives and is a massive investment in the field of microbicides, which the foundation and IPM said has been largely ignored by major pharmaceutical companies. Microbicides are gels, films, sponges and other products applied topically to help prevent sexual transmission of HIV.
Women are at greater risk for HIV than men because they are more likely to contract it in a single exposure, and the cervix is "site of particular vulnerability," according to the Web site for the Global Campaign for Microbicides.
There are social reasons as well as biological ones for the increased risk, said Helene Gayle, the foundation's director of HIV, TB and Reproductive Health. The decision to use a condom is often up to the man, and female condoms are unavailable to women in developing nations, she said.
"The only technology we have is a male-controlled technology--a condom," Gayle said.
The foundation also found little interest among major pharmaceutical companies because microbial products aren't moneymakers, she said.
There are more than 50 microbial substances under development, said Zeda Rosenberg, IPM's chief executive officer. Although years of testing remain, it's possible that a microbicide could be available by the end of the decade, she said.
"(The grant) will certainly help us more easily achieve our mission," Rosenberg said, adding that "there are many more resources we're going to need to raise."
IPM was formed in March 2002 with a $15 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and has secured pledges and grants from the World Bank, United Nations Population Fund, and the governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and Ireland.