HIV coup: A costly new drug is approved to head off the virus
Share with others:
Last week was a historic moment in the three-decade fight against HIV-AIDS. After extensive trials, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave preliminary approval Monday to Gilead Sciences to begin mass-producing Truvada, a little blue pill that prevents HIV infection.
Truvada is not a miracle pill. It must be used in combination with safe-sex practices and condoms to prevent and reduce the rate of infection. In approving the drug, the FDA stresses that Truvada is not a cure for the disease if it has already been acquired. If a strict regimen including daily use of the pill is followed, a success rate for prevention between 44 percent and 94 percent can be expected.
Although Truvada has little value for the 1.2 million Americans already infected with HIV, use of the drug could reduce the number -- 50,000 -- of those who contract the virus each year. Which brings us to the other encouraging news.
On Thursday global AIDS experts issued a plan for research which would have a team of scientists follow promising leads that could produce a cure for HIV in, perhaps, a few years. The announcement was made before Sunday's opening of the International AIDS Conference, which was expected to gather 20,000 scientists and other experts in Washington, D.C.
A key part of the scientists' strategy is to get more of the world's 34 million HIV-infected people on life-saving drugs. The Associated Press reported that only 8 million of 15 million people who are eligible for treatment in the world's poorest regions are getting medication.
Truvada is a drug that comes with a harsh reality. It's expensive, possibly $11,000 to $14,000 annually. The poor and those without health insurance will probably be out of luck, yet they are often among the most vulnerable to the virus. The sooner Truvada's price comes down, the more effective it will be across society.
For those with HIV and those at the risk of getting it, these developments are signs that modern medicine is making progress. Researchers cannot rest, however, until they have a cure and make the kind of history millions have long been seeking.
First Published July 23, 2012 12:00 am