New ‘game changing’ HIV pill that could dramatically cut infection rate


Results from a major trial investigating the effectiveness of PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) for the treatment and prevention of HIV have found that it has the potential to cut infection among gay men who are considered high risk by an astounding 86%. The pill, Truvada, developed by Gilead is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs already used to treat HIV. This new pill must be taken daily in order for it to be effective but has the ability to treat and prevent infection of HIV.

The trial, funded by government agencies, the Medical Research Council and Public Health England recruited 545 gay men from 12 NHS trusts who were sexually active and had recently had unprotected sex. It was found that out of the 276 men that were immediately given PrEP only 3 were diagnosed with HIV within the first year, compared with the 19 men diagnosed with HIV from the group who were deferred treatment.

PrEP has been available for high risk men in the United States since 2012, however the UK study was conducted to get real world experience on the pills effectiveness and to also establish whether use of the drug would reduce condom use. The study found that condom use was not changed among those who were given PrEP.

One major issue associated with the use of PrEP is whether administration of the drug would be cost effective. With campaigners calling for the pill to be available on the NHS ‘as soon as possible’ it is prospected to cost approximately £22.8m per year. However this cost needs to be compared with the current lifetime cost of treating a person with HIV (which is estimated to be £360,000) and also the potential savings from reduced infection rates. What we do know is that the use of PrEP could dramatically reduce the infection rate among high risk groups. As Dr Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust, states: “PrEP is, quite simply, a game-changer. We know that most gay men use condoms most of the time, and that this has prevented tens of thousands of HIV infections since the epidemic began in the UK. However, we also know that condomless sex vastly increases the risk of HIV being transmitted.”

AHPN supports and welcomes the results found in this trial. Some campaigners have also stated that high risk hetero sexual populations should not be overlooked in this new development. Heightened infection rates of Black African communities in the UK suggest that the discussion needs to be broadened so that all ‘at risk’ communities might feel the potential benefits.