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Microbicide Developer Receives License for Novel HIV Microbicide Candidate From Merck & Co., Inc.

SILVER SPRING, Md., March 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a boost to HIV prevention research, Merck & Co., Inc., has agreed to provide a royalty-free license to the non-profit International Partnership for Microbicides (IPM) to develop a novel antiretroviral compound for use as a potential vaginal microbicide.

The compound, called L'644, is a member of a class of antiretroviral molecules known as gp41 fusion inhibitors, which inhibit HIV infection by preventing the virus from fusing with the surface of target cells, an early step in the HIV infection process, potentially representing a novel way to block infection.

This announcement follows a similar agreement with Merck that granted IPM a royalty-free license in 2005 to develop another compound, L'167/CMPD167, which belongs to the class of molecules known as CCR5 blockers.

Microbicides are products, such as gels or films, that could be applied vaginally to prevent HIV transmission during vaginal intercourse. IPM is also developing other delivery methods, such as long-lasting vaginal rings that would release the drug gradually over time.

"Merck deserves recognition for its exemplary commitment to HIV prevention research," says Dr. Zeda Rosenberg, CEO of the International Partnership for Microbicides. "This arrangement for L'644 helps IPM pursue development of compounds that target HIV at many points in the virus's lifecycle. We're working toward the day when millions of women around the world will have access to safe and effective microbicides -- and partnerships like this will help us get there."

Preclinical research conducted by Merck suggests that L'644 is a potent HIV fusion inhibitor that is able to block infection of T cell targets in laboratory settings. For this reason there is a strong scientific rationale for evaluating its potential as an anti-HIV microbicide. Under the terms of the agreement, Merck grants IPM full royalty-free rights to develop L'644 as a microbicide to prevent HIV infection in women in developing countries, while also collaborating with IPM to advance early stage product development research efforts.

"Merck is pleased to contribute the results of our research and development to this worldwide effort to protect women from HIV infection," said Dr. Daria Hazuda, vice president of scientific affairs for infectious disease and HIV at Merck Research Laboratories. "This agreement underscores our long-standing and ongoing commitment to finding new ways to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS."

Collaborating with industry to secure promising compounds is a crucial first step toward making a microbicide accessible to those who most need it. Ensuring access is an essential element of IPM's mission -- and a guiding principle throughout its development process.

To that end, IPM has obtained royalty-free licenses for five antiretroviral compounds from pharmaceutical companies via agreements that have become a model for public-private partnership in fostering global health solutions. These non-exclusive agreements provide IPM flexibility in pursuing development and promoting access, which will allow it to make any resulting microbicide available in developing countries -- including those where the impact of the AIDS pandemic has been most severe.

In addition to Merck, IPM's pharmaceutical partners include Pfizer, which in January 2008 agreed to allow IPM to develop the CCR5 blocker maraviroc as a microbicide. In December 2006, IPM and CONRAD reached independent agreements with Gilead Sciences to develop tenofovir (PMPA), a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor. In October 2005, IPM entered agreements with Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb to develop CCR5 blocker and entry inhibitor compounds early in development. In March 2004, IPM signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Tibotec Pharmaceuticals to develop the company's non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, dapivirine, as a microbicide; IPM expects to put that compound into a Phase III clinical trial late in 2009.

Safe and effective microbicides could provide women in the developing world with a powerful new tool to protect themselves from HIV that would complement existing prevention methods. In the past two years the number of women living with HIV globally has increased by 1 million to 15.4 million. By the end of 2006, women comprised nearly half of the adults living with HIV and AIDS globally, but in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls already account for almost 61 percent of people living with HIV.

About IPM: The International Partnership for Microbicides was established in 2002 to accelerate the development and accessibility of microbicides to prevent HIV transmission in women. By screening compounds, designing optimal formulations, establishing manufacturing capacity, developing trial sites and conducting clinical trials, IPM works to improve the efficiency of all efforts to develop and deliver safe and effective microbicides as soon as possible. IPM's donors include the governments of Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the European Commission, the Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, UNFPA, and the World Bank.

SOURCE International Partnership for Microbicides
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