The transformation of the sexual and reproductive health of women worldwide, and helping to prevent the one million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that occur globally every day, are among the goals of a bold and innovative new collaborative research project.
Led by Burnet Institute’s Head of Life Sciences, Professor Gilda Tachedjian, the EVE-M (Enhancing the Vaginal Environment and Microbiome) initiative aims to develop a number of novel technologies, including an intravaginal ring loaded with active pharmaceutical ingredients designed to address bacterial vaginosis (BV), and:
– Regulate a woman’s vaginal microbiota over her lifetime
– Prevent the transmission of STIs and HIV
– Provide contraception to reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies.
“Contraception for women hasn’t really improved in 50 years and women’s health is often not prioritised,” Professor Tachedjian said.
“If we can create a device that can optimise the vaginal microbiome and enhance the mucosal environment, help prevent STIs, and reduce unplanned pregnancies, it will have a dramatic impact on women’s health and the global economy.
“Every day there’s one million new STI infections globally, not including herpes and HIV, and the economic cost of STIs, BV, and unplanned pregnancies is estimated at over USD$70 billion a year, so there’s a huge burden.”
Image: The EVE-M team aims to develop a number of novel technologies to transform women’s health.
EVE-M was made possible by stage-one funding from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Frontier Health and Medical Research Program, which will facilitate planning for further research.
It was one of only 10 projects from almost 1200 applicants reviewed by an international panel of experts to attract funding, and the only one of these projects focused on women’s health.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to advance our concept of improving women’s sexual reproductive health through the development of a multipurpose prevention technology (MPT) that targets the vaginal microbiota,” Professor Tachedjian said.
“It’s not just a research project, but it’s focused on product development, so we want an outcome, we want to be internationally competitive, and we want to have an impact on health at home and globally,” Professor Tachedjian said.
“What this funding support does is take our high-impact ideas and gives us the resources to progress these as part of a multidisciplinary team.”
That team comprises Burnet, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (The Alfred and Monash University), Deakin University, Family Planning NSW, Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland (Baltimore), and spinoff company, Eudaemon Technologies Pty Ltd.
“The multidisciplinary and multinational approach, and the scale of this endeavour is really exciting and challenging,” Professor Tachedjian said.
“We’ve got biologists working with material engineers, who are working with clinicians and researchers, with spinoff companies and industry, and with business development and commercialisation.”
An important aspect of EVE-M is the commitment to end user-driven design. Feedback from women recruited to take part in qualitative studies as part of stage one will help to inform the design of the interventions because, as Professor Tachedjian explains: “If you don’t have input from the end users and their partners, they’re not going to use the device.”
What is BV?
Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition caused by an imbalance in the bacteria that occur naturally in the vagina.
Associated adverse sexual and reproductive health outcomes include:
– Preterm delivery and miscarriage
– Low birth weight in infants
– A higher risk of acquiring STIs including HIV.
BV is hard to treat, often requiring multiple courses of antibiotics and has a very high (50+ per cent) recurrence rate.
Research and business synergy breaks new ground
Burnet Executive General Manager of Commercial Strategy and Industry Partnerships, Ms Serina Cucuzza said:
“A market-led approach not only allows us to tailor make our interventions to end users, but will lead to a greater chance of commercial success.”
“By adopting Burnet’s qDOS Lab accelerator principles from the beginning with focused milestone driven plans, we hope to reach patients and the market sooner,” she said.
“We are extremely fortunate to be bringing together some of the world’s foremost thought leaders in this evolving field, all with a shared vision and common goal focused on generating innovative solutions for women’s health.”