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Experts Announce New Drug That Prevents HIV/AIDS
A new dawn appears to be breaking in the fight against the Human Immuno-deficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, as leading specialists in the United Kingdom have announced positive ground breaking results in clinical trials of a pill which they say can dramatically cut a person’s risk of contracting the virus.
The pill used in the trial, Truvada, is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs- tenofovir and emtricitabine- that are used in combination with other medicines to treat HIV.
Developed by Gilead and described as a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, PrEP, its recently established ability to prevent as well as treat the virus marks a major turning point in efforts to combat HIV among high-risk groups.
Truvada, if the test results are validated, provides a way for people who do not have HIV but who are at substantial risk of getting it to prevent HIV infection by taking a pill every day.
When exposed to HIV through sex or injection drug use, PrEPs can work to keep the virus from establishing a permanent infection.
When taken consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%. But it is much less effective if it is not taken consistently
“These results are extremely exciting and show PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV infection in the real world,” said Sheena McCormack, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at University College London.
According to McCormack, “concerns that PrEP would not work so well in the real world were unfounded” as recent results show there is indeed a need for PrEP, and that the trial drug offers hope of reversing the epidemic among high risk groups, especially men who have sex with men.
“The findings we’ve presented today are going to be invaluable in informing discussions about making PrEP available through the NHS,” McCormack added.
The results of trials conducted on the efficacy of the pre-exposure prophylaxis, PrEP, have been described as “extremely exciting” and a “game-changer” by several experts in the HIV-AIDS research sector.
According to reports, the study revealed that the PrEP cut the risk of HIV infection among gay men who are considered to be at high risk by an unprecedented 86 per cent.
A senior panel of NHS experts is reportedly considering how PrEP could be introduced to the public via NHS, because in spite of major advances in the fight against HIV/Aids reported in the past two decades, the high rate among men who have sex with men, has reportedly remained stubbornly high in the UK.
Funded by UK government agencies, the Medical Research Council and Public Health England, the trial, known as the Proud Trial, which took place across 12 NHS trusts in Brighton, London, York, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield, was set up to provide real-world evidence on the pill’s effectiveness, and to answer outstanding questions, such as whether providing it would lead to reduced use of condoms.
It involved administration of the PrEP to 545 HIV-negative gay men who had been recruited for the study. The volunteers were required to be sexually active and to have recently had unprotected sex.
The PrEP which was administered had been available to at-risk groups in the United States since 2012.
Early findings reportedly proved so encouraging that in October last year the trial was sped up to ensure 269 men whose access was going to be deferred were given the drug straight away.
Among the 276 men given PrEP immediately, there were only three HIV infections in the first year of the study, compared with 19 among the deferred group.
Men taking part in the study reported they did not change their condom use because of PrEP – evidence that was borne out by the fact that infection rates of other sexually transmitted infections, STIs, were similar in both groups.
An estimated 2,800 gay men acquired HIV in the UK in 2013 and the rate of new infections has remained high for a decade. Six per cent of gay and bisexual men are now living with HIV, rising to 13 per cent in London.
The Chief Executive of the National Aids Trust, Deborah Gold, stated that researchers reported 19 HIV infections in the group not taking PrEP during the study period.
“If we can stop people getting HIV by giving them PrEP, we have an ethical duty to do so. Furthermore, over the course of their lifetime the treatment of those 19 men will cost the NHS nearly £7m.
“So the financial argument is clear, as is the ethical one. PrEP needs to be available on the NHS as soon as possible for all those who need it,” Deborah stated.
Simon Barton, chair of the HIV Clinical Reference Group for NHS England, which will review the cost-effectiveness of PrEP, described the Proud trial findings as “very important”.
Barton, a professor of Medicine and Consultant in HIV and Genito-urinary Medicine at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, said the next challenge was hinged on translating the benefits demonstrated in the study into practice.
“We have already begun work to carefully consider how this treatment could be delivered equitably and most efficiently by liaising closely with the Local Government Association, Public Health England, clinicians and patient representatives,” he said.