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Truvada’s use as HIV prevention drug raises concerns

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

Drug resistance to established regimens can be a major concern. (Photo courtesy of Gilead)

NEW YORK — Debate persists in the gay community over the use of Truvada, a drug hailed as a lifesaver for many with HIV, about its use and effectiveness as a prevention technique for uninfected men who have gay sex without condoms, the AP and other news outlets report.

Many doctors and activists see immense promise for such preventive use of Truvada, and are campaigning hard to raise awareness of it as a crucial step toward reducing new HIV infections, which now total about 50,000 a year in the U.S., the AP reports.

Yet others — despite mounting evidence of Truvada’s effectiveness — say such efforts are reckless, tempting some condom users to abandon that layer of protection and exposing them to an array of other sexually transmitted infections aside from HIV.

“If something comes along that’s better than condoms, I’m all for it, but Truvada is not that,” Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, was quoted as having said by the AP. “Let’s be honest: It’s a party drug.”

Truvada, produced by California-based Gilead Sciences, has been around for a decade, serving as one of the key drugs used in combination with others as the basic treatment for people who have HIV. However, the drug took on a more contentious aspect in 2012 when the Food and Drug Administration approved it for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — in other words, for use to prevent people from getting sexually transmitted HIV in the first place, the AP said.

Since then, critics have warned that many gay men won’t heed Truvada’s once-a-day regimen and complained of its high cost — roughly $13,000 a year. Truvada’s proponents say most insurance plans — including Medicaid programs — now cover prescriptions for it, and they cite studies showing that the blue pill, if taken diligently, can reduce the risk of getting HIV by more than 90 percent, the AP said.

A town hall panel discussion on PrEP is planned for April 28 from 7-9 p.m. at the GLBT Community Center of Baltimore. Visit for details.


We need new AIDS drugs — fast!

Truvada, Gilead, gay news, Washington Blade

Drug resistance to established regimens can be a major concern. (Photo courtesy of Gilead)

For those living with HIV and fortunate to have access to AIDS drugs, one of the scariest things they face is drug resistance. At some point, they know, their bodies will begin to resist their current drug regimens. This means their doctors will need to find out what’s happening, when to switch therapies and which drugs to switch to. Then you hope there is no “cross resistance” meaning that an entire class of drugs will be rejected. It’s a complicated and scary process.

Tragically, if they don’t switch or other drug regimens aren’t available or they’re resistant to other available drugs, as well, eventually they will succumb to AIDS and die. This is the harsh reality of living with HIV: Your options may eventually run out. A recent study estimates more than 76 percent of the U.S. HIV-positive population has some form of drug resistance.

But here is some good news. The Food and Drug Administration just approved a new antiretroviral called Tivicay. The once-daily drug is a class of antiretorvirals known as integrase inhibitors that actually block the virus from entering your immune systems T-cells. Tivicay is the first new treatment delivered by ViiV Healthcare in an HIV joint venture among GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Shionogi in which GlaxoSmithKline is the largest shareholder, with a more than 75 percent stake.

Tivicay can be used to treat infected adults who have been taking other drugs or are new to treatment. So that is some good news in the fight against drug resistance:  Now there’s another treatment option available.

The approval of ViiV’s Tivicay is important because a number of companies already have or soon will get out of the HIV drug business. One is Roche, which developed the first protease inhibitor many believe saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Some rumors point to Abbott as the next.

Now here is really scary news: Drug resistance is on the rise worldwide, especially in Africa. A recent article in the Daily Nation reports that in Tanzania, around Lake Victoria, patients have stopped taking their HIV drugs. Why?  Side effects and drug supplies. In addition, there are reports other African countries have inconsistent HIV drug supplies.

It appears if clinics run out of one or more drugs, they switch their patients to new HIV drug regimens. “Abrupt switches of antiretroviral are threatening our health,” Samwell Chuma, an HIV patient in Tanzania, stresses, “and some new anti-HIV regimens are too strong for our weak bodies to withstand.” The sad truth is our brothers and sisters in Africa and the rest of the developing world are being given older drugs that many physicians in the United States and in other developed countries would hesitate to prescribe.  It’s all about access – unfortunately.

The sad reality is we can fight drug resistance only with different, that is, new drugs.

Now let’s look at the last time a new AIDS drug was approved before the emergence of Tivicay. I emphasize I mean new, and not existing combinations of older drugs contained in one daily pill.

This means we’ve already eliminated two recently approved drugs. One is Gilead’s drug Stribild, approved a year ago and known by some in the HIV community as the Quad. You can also discount their other combined-in-one pill drugs, Complera, approved in August 2011, and in Atripla, approved in 2006. Good treatments, but not a new drug.

A new drug, Edurant, produced by Janssen, went on the market in 2011. However, Edurant is not approved for patients already using antiretrovirals. Translation? If you are living with HIV now and on an AIDS drug regimen, then you are SOL as it relates to Edurant and, by the way, to some other antiretrovirals available now.

Clinical trials are now underway to explore the use of newly approved Tivicay in a once-daily, fixed dose combination that includes two drugs approved 15 years ago.  Looks like ViiV is going to take a chapter out of Gilead’s game plan:  Just combine older drugs into one convenient pill. This is the strategy that allowed Gilead to capture more than half the entire AIDS drug market, which is estimated in the tens of billions of dollars.

Sadly, the last time that Gilead actually had a new drug approved (again, I’m not including combination drugs in one pill that uses older existing drugs) was August of 2004. That’s almost 10 years ago. Clearly the trend, if you look at drug approvals over the past six years, is to combine several drugs into one convenient pill. But if we are going to survive this epidemic in the long term, it’s critical we have new drugs — and fast! It could mean the survival of millions of people living with HIV worldwide.


Panel wants more research on MSM blood ban

blood, blood ban, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Bigstock)

ORLANDO – A federal panel heard evidence last week to consider overturning a ban on blood bank donations by gay men – a holdover from the early days of the HIV virus and AIDS, Watermark reports.

But instead of suggesting the removal of the ban, members voted Dec. 5 to recommend funding continued research and establishing a “transfusion-transmissible infections monitoring system.”

The decision was a blow to advocates who have been pressing to overturn the 1985 FDA decision they say stigmatizes gay men and ignores advances in treatment and detection in the decades since, the Watermark report said.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability listened to research presentations Dec. 4-5 before voting on the recommendation. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will have the final say.

Although those infected with HIV typically develop antibodies within two-to-eight weeks of exposure, there are cases where it can take up to six months for those antibodies to show up, the CDC says.

The CDC has reported on examples in recent years of patients contracting HIV from blood transfusions, although it is extremely rare.


AMA backs lifting FDA gay blood ban

blood, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates have been calling for an end to the lifetime ban on blood donations by gay men for years. (Photo by Daniel Gay via Wikimedia Commons)

CHICAGO — The American Medical Association — the nation’s largest association of physicians — has officially backed a plan to lift the FDA lifetime ban on blood donation by men who have sex with men.

The blood ban was put in place in 1983 at the onset of the AIDS pandemic, but many HIV/AIDS experts now call the policy antiquated. According to ABC News the AMA will back a policy that mirrors those in other nations, which will allow gay men to donate blood if they’ve abstained from sex with other men for a period of time.

“The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” AMA board member Dr. William Kobler said in a statement. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”

The United Kingdom and Australia allow gay men who have been abstinent for at least one year to donate blood.


Drawing blood

Mary Coble, blood, art, gay news, Washington Blade

Performance artist Mary Coble draws blood for ‘Deferral.’ (Photo courtesy Corcoran)

Internationally acclaimed queer performance artist Mary Coble will be doing a four-day show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (500 17th St., N.W.) starting Wednesday and running through Aug. 10.

The performance, titled “Deferral,” addresses the Food and Drug Administration’s policy of refusing blood donations from “men who have sex with men.” It is also an installation, constructed in the Corcoran’s Atrium, with an anatomical theater formed by white hospital curtains.

“I will have a pint of blood drawn, and will then use that blood to make marks on the curtains to reference some of the campaign and political slogans surrounding the issue,” Coble says. “The men who are participating with me are gay men, so I am in the position of privilege because I can have blood drawn. They will be stitching using red thread to sew on the curtains to act as a stand-in for their blood, because their blood would not be considered by the FDA.”

The Corcoran’s hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on Wednesday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $10. For more information, visit


Year in review: Home HIV tests become available

OraSure, OraQuick, HIV, HIV test, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy OraSure Technologies Inc)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for the first time on July 3 an in-home, self-administered HIV test to be sold over the counter.

Known as the OraQuick In-Home HIV test, the test was developed by OraSure Technologies, Inc.

“The test has the potential to identify large numbers of previously undiagnosed HIV infections, especially if used by those unlikely to use standard screening methods,” the FDA said in a new release.

“Knowing your status is an important factor in the effort to prevent the spread of HIV,” said Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “The availability of a home-use HIV test kit provides another option for individuals to get tested so that they can seek medical care, if appropriate.”

The FDA says clinical studies of the test showed a 92 percent sensitivity rate, which means that of every 12 HIV-infected individuals tested with the kit, one negative result could be expected.

“A positive result with this test does not mean that an individual is definitely infected with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting to confirm the result,” the FDA said. “Similarly, a negative test result does not mean that an individual is definitely not infected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the previous three months.”

FDA officials noted that the OraSure in-home test is the first HIV test that allows users to learn their results at home immediately without interacting with a lab or medical professionals.

The officials said the new test’s potential for identifying large numbers of people who don’t know they are infected outweighs concern by some that people who test positive should have immediate access to counseling and medical advice.

Experts estimate that one-fifth of the people infected with HIV are unaware of their status and often contribute to the infection of others.