FDA panel backs first pill to block HIV infection

By Matthew Perrone

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 10 2012 5:45 p.m. MDT

Other speakers worried that wide scale use of Truvada would divert limited funding from more cost-effective options. Truvada sells for about $900 a month, or just under $11,000 per year. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which opposes approval of Truvada, estimates that 20 HIV-positive patients could be treated for the cost of treating one patient with preventive Truvada.

"Truvada for prevention will squeeze already-constrained health care resources that can be better spent on cheaper and more effective prevention therapies," the group states in a petition to the FDA.

The FDA is legally barred from considering cost when reviewing drugs. Medicare and Medicaid, the nation's largest health insurance plans, generally cover all drugs approved by the FDA and many large insurers take their cues for coverage from the government plans.

An estimated 1.2 million Americans have HIV, which develops into AIDS unless treated with antiviral drugs. AIDS causes the body's immune system to breakdown, leading to infections which are eventually fatal. Gay and bisexual men account for the majority of cases — nearly two-thirds.

The number of new HIV infections in the U.S. has held steady for 15 years at about 50,000 per year. But with no vaccine in sight and an estimated 240,000 HIV carriers unaware of their status, doctors and patients say new methods are needed to fight the spread of the virus.

Nick Literski, a federal worker in Seattle, has been taking Truvada for HIV prevention for more than a year. His partner is HIV-infected and his doctor prescribes the drug as a precautionary measure, even though it is not yet FDA-approved for that use. Literski pays a $40 monthly co-pay for the once-daily pill.

FDA approval of the drug for prevention would be "a huge step forward" in the fight against AIDS, he said in an interview Thursday. But he said rejection would be devastating, threatening gay relationships like his that involve one partner who is HIV infected and one who isn't.

"Many HIV-positive men end up ending their relationships with HIV-negative men out of fear of infecting their partner," Literski said, and he worried about that happening to him before he started using Truvada.

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AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this story from Chicago

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