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Can a Pill a Day Keep HIV Away?

In Combo With Safer Sex, Truvada Protects Gay/Bi Men From HIV Infection, Study Shows
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 23, 2010 -- A daily dose of the AIDS drug Truvada cut new HIV infections by 44% among gay and bisexual men, an international clinical trial found.

Men who actually took the pill each day had a far lower risk of getting the AIDS virus. Those reporting taking Truvada at least nine days out of 10 had 73% fewer HIV infections than men taking placebo pills.

And men with detectable levels of Truvada in their blood cut their HIV risk by 92% -- 13 times lower than men who, according to blood tests, weren't regularly taking their pills.

The study, dubbed the Pre-exposure Prophylaxis Initiative or iPrEx, began in 2007 in Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and the U.S. and included some 2,500 men who have sex with men.

The prevention strategy is called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP. The idea is to give people at extremely high risk of HIV infection a potent but safe and easy-to-take AIDS drug before they get the AIDS virus.

Truvada, a single pill that combines two AIDS drugs, was chosen because it stays in the body for a long time and causes relatively few side effects. Gilead Sciences, which makes Truvada, donated the drug but was not otherwise involved in funding or conducting the study.

HIV experts were quick to hail the findings in a flurry of news releases.

"These results represent a major advance in HIV prevention research," says Kevin Fenton, MD, director of the CDC's division of HIV/AIDS.

"The iPrEx study proves that PrEP provides important additional protection against HIV when offered with other prevention methods such as HIV testing, counseling, condom use, and management of sexually transmitted infections," says study co-chair Robert Grant MD, MPH, of the Gladstone Institute and the University of California, San Francisco.

"iPrEx is a significant advance in HIV prevention," says study co-chair Javier R. Lama, MD, MPH, of Lima, Peru.

"Certainly this is an important finding that provides the basis for further investigating, developing, and employing this prevention strategy, which has the potential to make a significant impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS," says Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsored the study.

"The iPrEx study is a very important addition to what is the most promising 15 months in the field of HIV prevention research since the epidemic began 27 years ago," says Alan Bernstein, MD, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.

Bernstein notes that the iPrEx findings follow the news that a topical microbicide containing an AIDS drug can cut HIV infections in heterosexual women in Africa by 39% and the suggestion from a Thai trial that it's possible for a vaccine to prevent HIV (although the vaccine tested was itself not sufficiently effective).

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