A new drug which reduces the risk of contracting HIV by up to 90% is coming to the UK and to the NHS.
The PrEP pill has been called the “most significant breakthrough” for health this generation. The virus has begun to be beaten back by this new pill and it may soon be available to the general public through the NHS. Scientists have found that a single dose of pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEp pill or Truvada, when it is in pill form, would provide a massive boost in protection for those at risk.
With a successful trial period behind it, the process which allows for the creation of more pills can be dramatically sped up to help reduce those who are at the most risk of infection. The news comes as a welcome relief following the resurgence of the disease amongst gay and bisexual men in 2013, leading to an all-time high in infection rates.
The rate of infection also has not slowed down as some suggested that it would; following an increase in awareness brought about by charities and spokespeople fighting the virus. The rate of infection has not slowed in over a decade.
The question then becomes what does this new drug do? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis, the PrEP pill, is a medication which will be taken daily and can prevent people who do not have HIV, but who are at substantial risk of getting it, from contracting the infection. This means that when someone is exposed to HIV through sex or the use of tainted needles, the medicines can help to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection
The pill itself, Truvanda, is made up of two medicines, tenofovir and emtricitabine, which are both used to treat the disease once a person is infected. Now they will be used to fight the virus before it ever takes hold.
As part of the trial the pill was distributed to 407 men in London, York, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield. The analysis following the trial found that infection rates significantly reduced 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.
She went on to say that “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.”
Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, also stated that this was the “most exciting development in HIV prevention in a number of years.” She added “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,”
“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.” This was what rounded out Dr Gillespie’s statement.
This advancement represents an enormous leap forward in how HIV is treated and prevented. This change could well mean the betterment of innumerable lives and who is to say that this breakthrough is not just the first of a series of steps to eradicate this awful disease from our planet. Let us hope that is what is happening.