LIFESTYLE

This New HIV Prevention Drug Could Soon Be Available To Those At Risk Of Infection On The NHS

17/10/2014 17:02 BST | Updated 17/10/2014 17:59 BST

A new drug, which could reduce the risk of contracting HIV by up to 90%, might soon be available on the NHS.

The PrEP pill has been hailed as one of the most significant health breakthroughs in the battle against the virus, in a generation.

Scientists found that taking a single dose of the pre-exposure prophylaxis - also known as PrEP or Truvada (in pill form) - provided an incredibly high amount of protection for those most at risk.

hiv ribbon

Following successful trials, the process in which the pill is made available on the NHS could be dramatically sped up to help those who are most vulnerable towards contracting the illness.

This news comes amid concerns that the number of gay and bisexual men being diagnosed with HIV reached an all time high in 2013.

Research also suggests that the rate of infection has showed no sign of slowing for nearly a decade.

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So what is the drug that could save thousands - if not millions - of lives in the long run?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a daily pill which can prevent people who do not have HIV, but who are at substantial risk of getting it, from contracting the infection.

The pill (brand name Truvada) contains two medicines - tenofovir and emtricitabine - which are used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV.

This means that when someone is exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, these medicines can help to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.

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As part of a recent PROUD study, Truvada was prescribed to 407 men across the UK in cities such as London, York, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield.

An interim analysis of this showed that the drug could lead to a major reduction in the number of new infections, said Dr Sheena McCormack of the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at University College London - who is leading the study.

“The exciting opportunity this offers is to make the biggest dent in the epidemic of all time. It will be better than treatment as prevention,” she added.

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Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust also noted that it’s potentially the most exciting development in HIV prevention in a number of years.

“For a trial to be fast-tracked in this way is rare, and shows just how much confidence researchers have in PrEP as a tool to reduce the spread of HIV,” she added.

She mentioned that there are still a number of questions that need to be answered though including “how PrEP will be made available and who will be able to access it”.

“The PROUD study has accelerated the process. We will now be looking to the NHS to match that pace, and act swiftly to ensure those most at risk of HIV in the UK can access PrEP.”

All being well, the trial could be rolled out nationally by 2017.

[H/T Independent]