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Bloomberg Examines Potential Benefits, Drawbacks To PrEP

“Gilead Sciences Inc. may learn this year whether its drugs for treating HIV can also stop people from catching the virus in the first place,” Bloomberg writes in a piece that examines the potential benefits and drawbacks to using low-doses of HIV/AIDS medications to reduce a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV. According to the news service, the initial results of 10 trials including more than 20,000 people could be available as early as July.

“If the strategy works, the pills from Foster City, California-based Gilead may promise the world a powerful tool for fighting AIDS, the deadliest infectious disease, after scientists’ failure so far to develop an effective vaccine or virus-killing gel,” Bloomberg writes. But, “[s]keptics say the approach, called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, may be too costly and impractical in sub-Saharan Africa, where 22 million people are infected with HIV – putting millions of others at risk – and per-capita income is $951 a year,” the news service adds.

The article examines other potential drawbacks to PrEP, such whether people would be willing to deal with the medicine’s side effects to prevention infection, and if individuals who receive “the drugs become riskier in their behavior, in the belief they’re protected against the virus.”

“From a scientific standpoint, there really is a good reason to believe that if properly done, it will work,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a retroviruses conference, held in February. However, “If we can’t get 70 percent of the people who are infected in low- and middle-income countries on therapy, how are we going to get people who aren’t even infected on therapy?” Fauci asked.

The article includes information about the challenges associated with determining whether individuals should receive PrEP and the expected cost-benefit ratio of the drugs. The piece also features comments by Bill Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, representatives from the CDC, Gilead, and HIV/AIDS researchers and advocates, who weigh in on making PrEP’s potential in developing countries (Bennett/Randall, 4/1).