US approves HIV-prevention drug, Truvada

Posted Jul 17, 2012 by Layne Weiss
The FDA has approved a drug to help prevent high-risk people from contracting the HIV virus. The drug, which is called Truvada, is meant to be used by people who engage in sexual activity with HIV infected partners, BBC News reports.
According to WebMD, Truvada is currently part of the regimen used to treat people who already have HIV, but this is the first time the FDA has approved the use of any drug for "pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which means uninfected people against HIV.
Truvada is a combination of two medicines, ABC News reports. It is manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc in Foster, California, and has been used since 2004 to treat HIV patients.
According to BBC News, studies have shown that Truvada reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 73%.
That does not mean, however, that people shouldn't still practice safe sex. The drug alone will not completely protect an individual for contracting the virus.
"It is not the prescription to party," says Debra Birnkrant, MD, the FDA's director of antiviral medication, WebMD reports.
"We stress that PrEP with Truvada must include safer-sex practices, counseling, and HIV-testing," Birnkrant said at a news conference officially announcing the approval of Truvada.
According to BBC News, some health workers were fearful that the drug would cause a false sense of security. There have also been fears that Truvada may lead to a drug-resistant strain of HIV.
AIDs Healthcare Foundation, a global organization dedicated to providing of AIDS/HIV patients was very outspoken against the drug's approval, ABC News reports.
"Today marks a catastrophe in the history of AIDs in America," Weinstein said.
Just like other health workers, Weinstein feared Truvada could lead to a drug-resistant strain of HIV. He also cautioned that the drug has side effects on the kidneys and bones, and while he believes those side effects are worth the risk for patients who already have HIV, he believes they are not worth the risk as a preventive drug.
Truvada must be taken everyday, WebMD reports. Neglecting to take the drug every day could lead to people contracting the drug-resistant strains of HIV that health care workers and AIDs/HIV groups are fearing.
Many health experts support the idea of taking a daily pill to prevent HIV. Many high-risk individuals rarely use condoms, but they might be more likely to take a pill, ABC News reports.
"It's argued that PrEP is far more expensive than condoms, but it's a lot cheaper than a lifetime of HIV treatment, " said Dr. Joel Gallant of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health. "if we can target PrEP to those at highest risk, PrEP is likely to be cost-effective."