by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The state of California will test an HIV-prevention pill, researchers announced April 17.
The pill, which is already being used to treat HIV patients, will be prescribed to 700 Gay men, Bisexual men, and Transgender women in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Long Beach who are considered high-risk for HIV infection, but are not currently HIV-positive.
'With this new prevention pill, we have another intervention to put in the arsenal to try and impact this epidemic,' said George Lemp, director of the California HIV/AIDS Research Program with the University of California president's office.
There are an estimated 140,000 people living with HIV or AIDS in California, including about 30,000 who don't know they are infected, Lemp said.
Lemp's program awarded $11.8 million in state grants for the prevention pill studies, and efforts to get about 3,000 HIV-positive people in Southern California into treatment and keep them there.
The grants will go to a group of U.C. schools, local governments, and AIDS organizations.
The pill is now sold under the brand name of Truvada, and is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating HIV but not for prophylactic use.
In 2010, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine said that it reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 44% to as much as 73%, depending on how often participants took their medication.
The prevention pill combined with counseling would have 'enormous possibilities' for high-risk people, said Phil Curtis of AIDS Project Los Angeles, which will recruit participants. However, more research is needed to measure the effects in the real world, he said.
'It is unrealistic to expect that a patient without HIV is going to see a doctor every month [to monitor the success of PrEP medication],' Curtis said.
Because Truvada is expensive - costing as much as $26 a day - a recent Stanford University study suggested that PrEP methods using the drug would make economic sense only if prescribed to people at high risk, such as those with multiple partners.
The two-drug pill, produced by Gilead Sciences in the Bay Area, has side effects that include nausea and vomiting, and possible kidney problems when used with other anti-HIV drugs.
Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has emphasized condom use as a preventive method, was critical of the study.
'Men - Gay, straight, Bisexual - don't want to use condoms,' Weinstein said. 'That's universal. If they are given another reason, then they won't.'