New HIV-Prevention Drug Approved
By on July 17th, 2012

The FDA has just approved a new HIV-prevention drug, Truvada, for HIV-negative people. This drug has been used in treating HIV-positive patients since 2004, but can now be administered to patients to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. This offers a serious chance to slowdown the epidemic.

Preventing HIV Multiplication in the Body

Truvada contains molecules that prevent the viral DNA from multiplying in the body. When a virus infects a human, it enters human cells and rapidly forms copies of itself. DNA is made up of building blocks called nucleotides. Truvada contains faulty copies of these building blocks, preventing the cell from making new viral DNA. The virus is thus unable to produce copies of itself in the host, and the infection is terminated. However, this drug is only to be administered to HIV-negative patients. This is because if administered in isolation to patients who are already infected, the virus may have enough time to develop resistance to this drug, making it harder to cure.

HIV prevention drug mechanism

a) The viral protein (In yellow) manufactures viral DNA using the brown building blocks. b) Truvada contains defective building blocks (shown in green) which stall this DNA synthesizing process. c) When a virus is resistant to this drug, it learns to leave aside the defective (green) blocks and use only the good (brown) blocks. [Image Credit: Immunopaedia]

Studies Show Significant Reduction in HIV Infection

A three year long study at the University of California in San Francisco showed that daily intake of this drug reduced infection by the HIV virus by as much as 42% in the population being studied. The study included HIV negative men who had unprotected sex with multiple partners, some of whom were HIV positive. In another study on heterosexual couples in which one partner was known to be infected, the chances of infection in the other partner reduced by 75%. The drug must be taken everyday to be effective. Daily dosage of the drug would cost $13,900 per year at the moment.

“It’s been most effective in people who are at very high risk and are able to take the drug on a regular basis,” said Dr. Tom Giordano, who is on the FDA panel that approved the drug. “When you really boil it down that’s going to be a relatively focused population, but it’s an important population to treat.”

NOT The Sole Preventive Measure

However, some safety groups have expressed apprehension about the drug leading to a sense of false security and encouraging unsafe sex practices. However, FDA clinical trials showed no indications of Truvada users engaging in risky sexual behaviour. The drug is to be used in conjunction with safe sex practises and is NOT the sole means of preventing HIV infection. Neither does the drug decrease the chances of infecting another person.

You can read about the FDA approval here.

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Author: Shweta Ramdas
Beginning life as a grad student studying human genetics.

Shweta Ramdas has written and can be contacted at

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