Schreiber Science: Truvada

Hannah Fagen, News Editor

Sometime in the not-too-distant future there may be a whole new way to prevent the transmission of HIV between sexual partners. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of approving a drug normally used to treat HIV and AIDS for the prevention of these illnesses. Truvada is a once-a-day antiretroviral pill and is the number one prescribed medication for HIV patients to take as a part of their combination HIV therapy.

HIV is a serious infection that often doesn’t present any symptoms for several years, during which time the body’s ability to fight infection is decreased. The last stage of the progression of HIV is AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in an average year, more than 50,000 Americans are diagnosed with HIV, and nearly 15,000 die from HIV or AIDS. HIV can be transmitted by having unprotected sex with an infected individual, sharing injection needles with infected individuals, or as a result of being born to an HIV-positive mother. In order to increase the length and quality of their lives, HIV-positive individuals must take a “cocktail” of different complementary anti-viral medications. HIV-positive individuals have used Truvada to help control their conditions for years.

More recently, some doctors have prescribed Truvada as a preventative medication for those at risk of acquiring HIV. At that time, however, the medication was not FDA-approved for that purpose. As a result, the medication company has neither been able to officially acknowledge its preventative capabilities, nor market it for that purpose. These alternative prescriptions came about after studies showed that if individuals adhere strictly to its once-a-day dosage, Truvada can be approximately 90% effective at preventing the transmission of the HIV virus. In the first week of May, an FDA advisory committee voted to officially recommend approval of Truvada as a preventative drug, in the form of a post-exposure prophylaxis. The FDA has not yet officially approved the motion, but history shows that, more often than not, the FDA follows the suggestions of its advisory panels. The committee voted in favor of approval for three main high-risk groups: men who have sex with other men, HIV-negative individuals in a serodiscordant relationship (one in which only one partner is infected with HIV), and people with multiple sexual partners. The vote passed by the smallest margin for the last group.