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US Panel Recommends Approval of Drug to Prevent HIV

  • Derek Henkle

Dr. Lisa Sterman holds a bottle of Truvada pills that she prescribes for about a dozen patients at high risk for developing AIDS, at her office in San Francisco, May 10, 2012.

Dr. Lisa Sterman holds a bottle of Truvada pills that she prescribes for about a dozen patients at high risk for developing AIDS, at her office in San Francisco, May 10, 2012.

The recommendation by a U.S government-funded panel of doctors and scientists that healthy people should be able to use an AIDS drug to prevent contracting the HIV virus has many advocates hoping the U.S. goal of an “AIDS-free generation” may actually be more within reach. The potentially life-saving effects of the prophylactic use of Truvada are in the spotlight.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a marathon 12-hour hearing Thursday to evaluate evidence that Truvada, a once-daily pill currently being used to treat AIDS patients, also could be used to prevent HIV infection in healthy individuals.

A panel of independent medical experts voted overwhelmingly to back Truvada’s use to prevent HIV and urged the FDA to approve the drug for use by those who are considered to be at a high risk for contracting the disease.

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“Using Truvada or pre-exposure prophylaxis, to prevent acquiring HIV, for an HIV negative person is a game changer, and it’s something that I believe is really going to take us to the next level," said Kali Lindsey, who is with the National Minority AIDS Council.

Some critics have said Truvada could give people a false sense of confidence and lead to a reduced use of condoms. But HIV educator Brad Miller believes approval of the drug will actually promote a dialogue on condom usage.

“They’ll know more about their health and what they can do to protect their health, versus being told what to do about their health,” said Miller.

Lisa and her husband, Tracy, who is HIV positive, make up one of the estimated 140,000 couples in the U.S. with mis-matching HIV statuses.

“This woman cared more about me than what I was infected with. Because the average person around here when they hear it, would go running the opposite direction," said Tracy.

Lisa chose not to cut ties, but instead to tie the knot [get married], and also to try Truvada.

“I want to remain healthy, so that in the times of his need, that I’m there to assist. So when PrEP came along I jumped at the idea," said Lisa.

Optimism among advocates, users

PrEP refers to pre-exposure prophylaxis, and Tracy is a strong supporter.

“PrEP helps, it does. I think that’s one of the most positive things they could have come up with, along with their research of how to combat the disease," said Tracy.

Currently wait-listed for a trial where she would receive free PrEP drugs, Lisa worries about the cost - as high as $1,500 per month.

“I just hope that they approve the PrEP, so that many others that are living in the situation that I’m living in will have this resource available to them,” she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not required to follow the panel's recommendation on Truvada, but FDA officials concluded the high-profile session by saying more must be done to prevent more HIV infections from occurring.

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