The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Monday morning that they have approved the first HIV-prevention drug.
The drug, called Truvada, was previously used in combination with other medications to help treat patients with HIV and was originally approved by the FDA in 2004. But it marks the first time the agency has approved a drug as a preventive measure to the disease.
“What I think this means is there’s going to be a new tool in the tool box for combating HIV,” said Phil Curtis, the director of government affairs at AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Truvada, which is produced by Gilead Sciences in California, was shown to reduce the chance of becoming infected by 42 percent in official trials when HIV-negative patients used it in unprotected sexual encounters with an HIV-positive partner. When paired with condom use, another trial found that the likelihood of getting HIV was reduced by 75 percent.
“Every year, about 50,000 U.S. adults and adolescents are diagnosed with the HIV infection,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a statement. “New treatments as well as prevention methods are needed to fight the HIV epidemic in this country.”
The price of the drug could prove steep for low-income communities, though, which would be problematic: A year's supply of Truvada would cost nearly $14,000 at its current pricing, which means areas like South Los Angeles would largely be unable to afford the drug. And as Curtis explained, South L.A. has one of the most heavily infected groups: homosexual black men.
“What has to happen is [this needs to become] an intervention of the most marginalized community,” Curtis explained. “In order for this population to be covered, what would have to happen is [those using the drug] would have to be reimbursed by public health companies.”
But that could take a lot of coaxing from and sounding off by advocates of the drug. As of now, Curtis said that just two major insurance companies have agreed to cover Truvada.
With that in mind, Curtis says people should know that a person isn't on this Truvada for life if using it for prevention. The patent is also being taken off the product in 2014, meaning the price of the drug would fall as well. Despite the currently high prices, he believes this drug is going to change a lot of lives and will be groundbreaking.
“I think that the statistics among groups have documented significant levels of efficacy when accompanied by safe sex practices,” Curtis said. “I think this is a new weapon.”