People who do not have HIV but are at high risk of becoming infected with the virus can now take medication to reduce their risk of sexual transmission of the disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this week it has approved a common treatment for people who are HIV positive to be used to help prevent the disease in others who are at high risk of becoming infected, such as gay and bisexual men.
Truvada, made by Gilead Sciences, was approved in 2004 for the treatment of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The drug is made up of two older HIV drugs, Emtriva and Viread.
In 2010, data from a three-year study showed that daily doses of Truvada cut the risk of HIV infection in healthy gay and bisexual men by 42 percent, when accompanied by condoms and counseling. In 2011, another study found that the drug reduced the infection risk by 75 percent in heterosexual couples in which one partner was infected with HIV and the other was not.
In May, an FDA advisory panel voted to recommend that the agency approve the new indication for Truvada despite opposition from groups that argued that the drug would give users a false sense of security and discourage condom use.
“In the ’80s and early ’90s, HIV was viewed as a life-threatening disease; in some parts of the world it still is. Medical advances, along with the availability of close to 30 approved individual HIV drugs, have enabled us to treat it as a chronic disease most of the time,” says Dr. Debra Birnkrant, director of the Division of Antiviral Products at the FDA.
“But it is still better to prevent HIV than to treat a life-long infection of HIV,” she says.