Background: Preclinical and early phase clinical microbicide studies have not consistently predicted the outcome of efficacy trials. To address this gap, candidate biomarkers of microbicide pharmacodynamics and safety were evaluated in a doubleblind, placebo-controlled trial of tenofovir gel, the first microbicide to demonstrate significant protection against HIV acquisition. Methods: 30 women were randomized to apply a single daily dose of tenofovir or placebo gel for 14 consecutive days. Anti- HIV activity was measured in cervicovaginal lavage (CVL) on Days 0, 3, 7, 14 and 21 by luciferase assay as a surrogate marker of pharmacodynamics. Endogenous activity against E. coli and HSV-2 and concentrations of immune mediators were quantified in CVL as candidate biomarkers of safety. Tenofovir levels were measured in CVL and blood. Results: A significant increase in anti-HIV activity was detected in CVL from women who applied tenofovir gel compared to their endogenous anti-HIV activity in genital tract secretions on Day 0 and compared to activity in CVL from women in the placebo group. The activity correlated significantly with CVL concentration of tenofovir (r = 0.6, p<0.001) and fit a sigmoid Emax pharmacodynamic model. Anti-HIV activity in CVL from women who applied tenofovir persisted when virus was introduced in semen, whereas endogenous anti-HIV activity decreased. Tenofovir did not trigger an inflammatory response or induce sustained loss in endogenous antimicrobial activity or immune mediators. Conclusions: Tenofovir gel had no deleterious impact on soluble mucosal immunity. The increased anti-HIV activity in CVL, which persisted in the presence of semen and correlated with tenofovir concentration, is consistent with the efficacy observed in a recent clinical trial. These results promote quantified CVL anti-HIV activity as a surrogate of tissue pharmacodynamics and as a potential biomarker of adherence to product. This simple, feasible and inexpensive bioassay may promote the development of models more predictive of microbicide efficacy.
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