UPDATE JULY 2012: Just before the start of this year’s International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, the FDA approved a major game-changing drug called “Truvada“. While I’ll let you read my article below from 2010 on the details of the drug’s history I’ll summarize by saying it’s a medication established by “a three-year study f[inding] that daily doses cut the risk of infection in healthy gay and bisexual men by 42 percent, when accompanied by condoms and counseling. Last year, another study found that Truvada reduced by 75 percent the rate at which an HIV-infected person in a heterosexual relationship passed the virus to his or her partner.”

Basically, it works to prevent the passing of HIV. There was a LOT of flack surrounding these studies and attempts to approve the drug as people argued the acceptance of this drug would lead to a reliance on it as the sole source of STD prevention by its users. However, Dr. Debra Birnkrant- FDA’s director of antiviral products (who does not work for Truvada!)- found that subjects in clinical trials in fact increased in condom usage and that STD rates either stayed at a baseline or decreased… basically, users of Truvada didn’t consider it a panacea to replace the ever important condom. THAT SAID, the pill is a daily one and repeated missed doses do reverse the preventative benefits of taking it. Further the cost attached to this puppy is set at about $1,200 a month (woof but it IS a new drug after all) and can cause side effects like diarrhea, kidney and bone damage. My two cents: it’s amazing we’re continuing to battle this disease and any new and effective drug is a step in the right direction. Most importantly, I’m hopeful for monogamous and discordant couples wherein one partner is positive and the other is negative who can possibly add this drug to their regimen to foster some- though of course not total- relief regarding their health and sexual practices. Go science, go FDA and thanks to my handsome Brazillian friend from down South for making sure this got its due coverage.

Huge Breakthrough.
A recent study on a drug called Truvada has been found to significantly cut the odds of infection in gay and bisexual men who engage in what we so euphemistically call “risky sexual practices”… we’re talking a level of protection of 73% for those taking it daily. SEVENTY THREE PER CENT. By no means is Truvada the new condom or the be-all-end-all of discoveries but this is an undeniably huge discovery in the world of HIV prevention for men who sleep with men.

The international study comprised of 2,500 men in six different countries (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and the United States) and compared the HIV contraction rates of gay men who self-reportedly had sex with multiple partners and were inconsistent with their condom use: basically, Johnny-Q-Gay. Half the subjects were given a placebo and the other half the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): Truvada, and there were clear results. After just one year, 64 out of 1,248 placebo participants had contracted HIV while only 36 out of 1,251 of those taking Truvada did. Only a year in, the results have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine as a boon for the current HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Where antiretroviral drugs have been typically seen as a means of preventing the progression of HIV to AIDS and to dampen the infection, Truvada is proving to be a shockingly effective tool in preventing the contraction of the virus: essentially stopping the disease before it even starts. The lead researcher of the study- a Dr. Robert Grant of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology in California- supported his finding by explaining that instead of just handing out the drugs (or placebos) to the subjects and letting them run wild, they were offered state of the art prevention methods including testing, counseling and education to ensure a balance between the studied men. Basically, where one might argue the seemingly not huge difference in the numbers of those transmitting the disease could be due to something as random as maturity or knowledge on the subject etc., the study truly attempted to equate the random men as thoroughly as possible to ensure the results reflected the role of the drug.

Still, the drug isn’t perfect. As with most medication it requires consistent use: once a day. While we might roll our eyes at the thought of a daily pill being simple to remember, detractors of the study argue that: “Men who engage in ‘risky sexual behavior’ are less likely to be regular with their dosage.” Personally, I’m a bit offended by the assumption that one equates to the other, but it is a relevant issue that the pill must be taken every day. Though, the drug was still found to be at its most effective so long as the regularity of consumption was at least 90% of the time… that sounds safer than birth control to me, but what the hell do I know ;)

Furthermore- and this might not immediately seem like a huge downfall to us mo’s- the drug has only been tested thus far on men who sleep with men. Heterosexual testing and testing with women is still pending so this is not a panacea thus far. This “PrEP research” as it’s being called, has received a huge boost by these results and will hopefully- according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control- be used to find an effective and indiscriminating tool to battle this global epidemic. Finally, the researchers make it very clear Truvada is not a prevention tool for any other form of STDs: this one affects HIV transmission only.

Personally, this news is pretty amazing. Constantly working to support and donating to HIV/AIDS research causes often seems fruitless as the disease continues on into nearly its 30th year with still 7,000 people a day contracting HIV. So, when something comes along that shakes up the playing field this vigorously, I get pretty excited. Though I’m one of those die-hard condom boys that has never tricked a guy into dating me long enough that the talk of going without has even come up ethereally, the idea that there’s a drug that need only be swallowed with a bit of water daily that will even more greatly increase my likelihood to stay negative is a life-changing one. Clearly, the side effects need to be fully considered- not mentioned if there are any at all in the research I did- and the availability isn’t exactly at your local pharmacy today, but in the future, this is definitely a discovery that’s going to change the way we think about this virus. Go Science!