Topical Agent Found To Kill Papillomavirus

February 12, 1999

HERSHEY, PA--A common surfactant and detergent found in many shampoos and toothpastes is the first topical microbicidal agent shown to kill animal and human papillomavirus, according to a Penn State researcher. Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) was found in cell culture and animal testing to inactivate sexually transmitted viruses including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) and human papillomaviruses (HPVs). These viruses cause AIDS, genital herpes and genital warts, respectively.

"This is a major step toward our goal of producing a practical, non-toxic, inexpensive, discreet product which women can apply topically to the vagina prior to intercourse -- a product which would protect them from HPV infection even during encounters with infected partners," explains Mary K. Howett, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at Penn State's College of Medicine. "In the case of previously infected women, this agent could prevent them from transmitting the virus to their partners. In addition, this agent could be used alone or with other currently available microbicides or spermicides to prevent HSV-2 and HIV transmission."

Howett and her colleagues' work titled, "A Broad-Spectrum Microbicide with Virucidal Activity against Sexually Transmitted Viruses," is published in the February issue of the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Howett says it will take at least several years before such products will be produced for use in humans. However, she adds that such products could greatly reduce cervical cancer.

Protection from genital wart viruses is important to public health because lesions caused by these viruses can progress to cancer, most notably cancer of the uterine cervix. This cancer causes 5,000 deaths per year in women in the U.S. In the developing world, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer related deaths in women. Worldwide, 250,000 women die annually from this form of cancer. Prevention of HPV infection could prevent most of these cancers. HPV infection may also lead to other cancers in the ano-genital tracts of women and men. HPV is frequently associated with vulvar and anal cancers. Prevention from transmission could also protect men and women from development of these cancers.

It is thought that about one in four women are infected by these viruses in the genital tract, with 1 to 3 percent of women showing overt signs of clinical infection upon gynecologic examination. Although most infected people do not develop cancer, individuals with HPV worry about infecting their partners, suffer from physical repercussions including possible loss of fertility and fear the development of cancer. Many people with HPV infection are unaware that they are infected. HPV infections occur commonly in adolescents and in people during their reproductive years. Lesions caused by these viruses are worse in immunocompromised people such as those with AIDS.

Howett and her colleagues are searching for partners to develop products that incorporate these anti-papillomavirus agents, alone or in combination with other microbicides. One such partnership has been established with Dan Malamud, Ph.D., and investigators at Biosyn, Inc. in Philadelphia to include SDS in products containing C31G, another potent microbicide under development by Biosyn.

The findings presented in this paper result from joint research efforts by investigators in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology and Pathology and the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Institute at The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center of the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa. and investigators in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, and at Biosyn, Inc. in Philadelphia, Pa.

The work was performed through funding provided by a Program Project Grant that was awarded to Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania, Biosyn, Inc. and the University of North Carolina by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and from support provided by the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Institute.

Penn State

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