Clinical trials set to test new ‘HIV prevention’ drug

In November 2016, the NHS lost an appeal to fund trials of a new HIV prevention drug. The NHS had been arguing for funding to be covered by local authorities. However, the Court of Appeal upheld that the NHS could afford to cover clinical trials, costing up to £10 million.


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PrEP drugs

The drugs, which are named PrEP, will dramatically reduce the risk of HIV infecting the body, for people at risk of catching the disease. For those at risk from sexual activity, the likelihood of infection will decrease by 90%, through taking PrEP drugs. This will occur by taking Truvada, an antiretroviral drug. Individuals at risk through injecting drugs will see their risk lowered by 70%. The drug will additionally be offered to heterosexual men, who are at risk from HIV due to unprotected sex, from 2017.

The NHS will now be funding a large-sale clinical trial on the drugs, which are also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis. These trials will allow health professional to identify the drugs progress and the direct impact on HIV levels. As a result of this action, HIV tests will be offered to up to 12 million individuals, and patients will be enrolled onto the clinical trial over the next three years.

Praise and criticisms

HIV charities have praised the drugs and upcoming trials for the lives that they will undoubtedly save. Clinical trial assistants such as will help to ensure that the trials are effective. The UK currently has 13,500 people living with undiagnosed HIV and each year sees roughly 5,000 new infections related to the disease. Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust stated that “for every person who would have become HIV positive without PrEP, the NHS will save £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs”. However, the drugs have also attracted plenty of criticism.

The effectiveness of the drugs has been questioned, due to a Cochrane review which found that gay men, who happen to be the most at-risk group, did not take the drugs consistently. This showed a lower risk reduction of 50%. Christian groups have expressed concern that the drug will encourage promiscuity. Additionally, concerns involving the strain on the NHS and the effects this will have on the funding for other illnesses, are at an all-time high.

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