Increasing the Effectiveness of Vaginal Microbicides: A Biophysical Framework to Rethink Behavioral Acceptability
Microbicide candidates delivered via gel vehicles are intended to coat the vaginal epithelium after application. The coating process depends on intrinsic biophysical properties of the gel texture, which restricts the potential choices for an effective product: the gel first must be physically synthesizable, then acceptable to the user, and finally applied in a manner promoting timely adequate coating, so that the user adherence is optimized. We present a conceptual framework anchoring microbicide behavioral acceptability within the fulfillment of the product biophysical requirements.
We conducted a semi-qualitative/quantitative study targeting women aged 18–55 in Northern California to assess user preferences for microbicide gel attributes. Attributes included: (i) the wait time between application and intercourse, (ii) the gel texture and (iii) the trade-off between wait time and gel texture. Wait times were assessed using a mathematical model determining coating rates depending upon the gel’s physical attributes.
71 women participated. Results suggest that women would independently prefer a gel spreading rapidly, in 2 to 15 minutes (P<0.0001), as well as one that is thick or slippery (P<0.02). Clearly, thick gels do not spread rapidly; hence the motivation to study the trade-off. When asked the same question ‘constrained’ by the biophysical reality, women indicated no significant preference for a particular gel thickness (and therefore waiting time) (P>0.10) for use with a steady partner, a preference for a watery gel spreading rapidly rather than one having intermediate properties for use with a casual partner (P = 0.024).
Biophysical constraints alter women’s preferences regarding acceptable microbicide attributes. Product developers should offer a range of formulations in order to address all preferences. We designed a conceptual framework to rethink behavioral acceptability in terms of biophysical requirements that can help improve adherence in microbicide use ultimately enhancing microbicide effectiveness.
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