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HIV-preventing drug to be trialed across England

Published on 07/08/17 at 10:16am

NHS England has announced that it will finally make the HIV-preventing drug, PrEP, available to those at risk with the beginning of a three-year, £10 million trial. From 1 September, sexual health clinics in London, Brighton, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield will be given the opportunity to take the once-daily pill.

Beyond these areas, the trial will be joined by further clinics in October to begin the full trial in April 2018. Previous studies have found that transmission of HIV in those taking the pill fell by 86%, holding the promise to drastically lower rates of infection.

It would build on reports that HIV cases in gay men were falling in the England for the first time. It is thought that this drop in rates could already be due to PrEP, as those at risk have found ways of procuring the drug for themselves.

The beginning of the roll-out of the drug through trials comes after a protracted legal battle that saw NHS England taken to court, after it tried to claim that funding treatment with the drug was the responsibility of local authorities. NHS England lost the case and it has, until now, dragged its feet to begin offering the preventative to those at risk.

Deborah Gold, Chief Executive at the National AIDS Trust, said: “We already know that PrEP brings down rates of HIV infection, changing lives for those at risk and saving public money. We now need to work with NHS England, local authorities, and the sexual health sector to make sure the widest possible range of eligible people at high risk of HIV have access to the trial. We will continue to monitor the uptake of PrEP, aiming to learn as much as possible about how to get PrEP to all those who need it most.”

The aim of the trial is to gather clinical evidence on optimal targeting, uptake and implementation of a large scale. It will be for clinics to decide who is eligible for the drug, depending on who is most at risk.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: “This major new intervention should complement and supercharge the wide-ranging and increasingly successful effort to prevent HIV. It’s another milestone in more than three decade’s worth of progress in tackling one of humanity’s major health challenges.”

There will be those that suggest that trial is another means of slowing down the inevitable process of the drug becoming widely available as a prescription for those at risk. The cost of the NHS list price for Truvada, the PrEP drug, is £355 per month but the service announced it will be purchasing the drug at discount net price.

Ben Hargreaves

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