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NIAID Research on Genital Herpes

NIAID supports research on genital herpes and herpes simplex virus (HSV). Studies are currently underway to develop better treatments for the millions of people who suffer from genital herpes. While some scientists are carrying out clinical trials to find the best way to use existing medicines, others are studying the biology of HSV. NIAID scientists have identified certain genes and enzymes (proteins) that the virus needs to survive. They are hopeful that drugs aimed at disrupting these viral targets might lead to the design of more effective treatments.

Meanwhile, other researchers are devising methods to control the virus’ spread. Two important means of preventing HSV infection are vaccines and Multipurpose Prevention Technologies.


Developing a vaccine against genital herpes has been challenging. Recently, an experimental vaccine intended to prevent genital herpes disease in women, although generally safe and well tolerated, proved ineffective when tested in a Phase III clinical trial known as the Herpevac Trial for Women. NIAID is examining other vaccine options and supporting several vaccines in various stages of development.

Multipurpose Prevention Technologies

Multipurpose Prevention Technologies, or MPTs, are products that have a combination of functions which may include preventing and treating sexually transmitted diseases and also preventing pregnancy. These products include gels, vaginal rings, quick dissolving films, creams, or lotions that a woman could insert into her vagina or rectum prior to sexual intercourse. These products are in various stages of development.

The NIAID Sexually Transmitted Infections Clinical Trials Group is developing a Phase I study to evaluate the safety of an MPT gel designed to treat genital herpes lesions. This MPT could also potentially serve as a non-hormonal method of contraception and could help prevent genital herpes infections types 1 and 2, HIV, human papillomavirus, and gonorrhea.​

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Last Updated May 28, 2015