Anti-HIV cream to begin trials

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British scientists will announce today the launch of human trials of a ground-breaking gel which could prevent up to three million people a year becoming infected with HIV.

British scientists will announce today the launch of human trials of a ground-breaking gel which could prevent up to three million people a year becoming infected with HIV.

The anti-viral gel has been developed by the Medical Research Council and London's Imperial College with £17m of government money. It works by forming a protective barrier during sex which attacks the virus - which can lead to AIDS - before it has the chance to infect vulnerable cells.

Researchers will tell a conference in London that laboratory trials have proved successful and clinical trials will take place in five African countries.

Professor Jonathan Weber, of Imperial College, said that the drug could be applied by women before sex in the form of an ointment or cream in situations where the use of a condom is impossible.

Prof Weber said: "What we have done is set out to try to identify chemical compounds which will be safe and easy for women to use, which in the test-tube completely prevent HIV getting into cells."

Twelve thousand women will take part in the three-year trials in South Africa, Zambia, Cameroon, Tanzania and Uganda. Africa has been ravaged by AIDS over the last 20 years, with up to 40 per cent of adults infected in some countries. South Africa has the highest rate in the world with five million people infected.

Religious and cultural barriers have been blamed for many men in developing countries not using condoms.

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