Microbicides are being actively researched and developed as woman-initiated means to prevent HIV transmission during unprotected coitus. Along with safety and efficacy, assessing and improving compliance is a major area of research in microbicide development. We have developed carrageenan-based semisoft vaginal suppositories and have previously evaluated how physical properties such as firmness, size and shape influence women’s willingness to try them. Firmness has previously been quantified in terms of small-strain storage modulus, G’, however large-strain properties of the gels may also play a role in the firmness perception. In the current study we prepared two sets of suppositories with the same G’ but different elongation properties at four different G’ values (250, 2500, 12,500, 25,000 Pa): For convenience we refer to these as “brittle” and “elastic”, although these terms were never provided to study participants. In the first of two tests conducted to assess preference, women compared pairs of brittle and elastic suppositories and indicated their preference. We observed an interaction, as women preferred brittle suppositories at lower G’ (250, 2500 Pa) and elastic ones at a higher G’ (25,000 Pa). In the second test, women evaluated samples across different G’, rated the ease-of-insertion
and ranked the samples in order of preference. Brittle suppositories at G’ of 12,500 Pa were most preferred. In vitro
studies were also conducted to measure the softening of the suppositories in contact with vaginal simulant fluid (VSF). Release of antiretroviral drug tenofovir in VSF was quantified for the brittle and elastic suppositories at G’ of 12,500 Pa to determine the effect of suppository type on release. The initial rate of release was 20% slower with elastic suppositories as compared to brittle suppositories. Understanding how different physical properties simultaneously affect women’s preferences and pharmacological efficacy in terms of drug release is required for the optimization of highly acceptable and efficacious microbicides.