Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved the use of wonder drug Truvada for HIV prevention, in what has been described as a major breakthrough following years of advocacy from health organisations.
The drug is a tablet HIV negative people at high risk of infection can take once a day as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to dramatically reduce their risk of infection. It contains two antiretroviral drugs – the same drugs used to treat HIV-positive people.
The TGA’s announcement has been welcomed by HIV/AIDS organisations and advocates around the country.
Darryl O’Donnell, executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) said that the TGA’s approval of Truvada for preventive purposes could make an enormous difference to the community and the goal of virtually eliminating HIV by 2020.
“This is a revolutionary development in the fight against HIV. We know condoms work. Now we also have a pill that works,” he said.
“Just as the oral contraceptive transformed millions of women’s lives, HIV PrEP can transform the lives of those at risk of HIV.
“Truvada as PrEP gives people at risk a powerful new option for taking control of their health. It puts them in control to stay HIV negative.”
On April 26, Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick announced a $6 million investment in a Demonstration Project for PrEP over four years across the state, allowing 2000 Queenslanders to trial the medication.
The approval announced by the TGA is only for the costly brand-name Truvada and does not cover generic versions of the drug.
Some gay men who are not on one of the state-based trials import generic Truvada from overseas pharmacies but despite self-importation being cheaper, for many the cost remains too high.
The Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) wants the Federal Government to urgently list Truvada on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to lower the cost and ensure the drug is accessible to as many people as possible.
“Across Queensland, without PBS listing, the cost of filling a Truvada script will be prohibitive. Whilst the registration of Truvada is positive we must now make it affordable,” QuAC executive director Michael Scott said.
“Without PBS listing, this is a wasted tool for HIV prevention. The Federal Government must act decisively to fund PrEP in order to prevent many of the 1100 HIV diagnoses that occur every year.”
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee is considering funding Truvada for PrEP at its July meeting.