The development of topical inserts for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), represents a promising alternative to oral and parenteral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) dosage forms. They may be used for vaginal and/or rectal administration of a variety of agents with antiviral activity. Topical inserts deliver drugs to the portal of viral entry, i.e., the genital or rectal mucosa, with low systemic exposure, and therefore are safer and have fewer side effects than systemic PrEP agents. They may dissolve fast, releasing the active drugs within minutes of insertion, or slowly for long-acting drug delivery. Furthermore, they are user-friendly being easy to administer, discreet and highly portable. They are also economical and easy to manufacture at scale and to distribute, with excellent stability and shelf-life. Altogether, topical inserts represent a particularly promising form of drug delivery for HIV and STI prevention. Highlighted within this review are end-user acceptability research dedicated to understanding preferred attributes for this form of drug delivery, advantages and disadvantages of the formulation platform options, considerations for their development, clinical assessment of select placebo prototypes, future directions, and the potential impact of this dosage form on the HIV prevention landscape.
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