A preventative HIV drug shown to almost halve the risk of infection could be tested in Australia for the first time if a $2 million research proposal is approved.
Researchers want to trial Truvada, a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment recently approved in the US, on some 450 gay men to find whether the strategy could work in a real-life setting in Australia.
PrEP is a preventative strategy, which involves HIV-negative people taking anti-retroviral medications to reduce the risk of HIV infection through sex.
A consortium of health workers, academics and organisations have applied for the $2 million funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council with approved grants possibly announced as early as this week.
The ComboPrEP study proposal has been spearheaded by Monash University and joined by the Australian Federation of AIDS organisations (AFAO) and researchers from NSW University’s National Centre in HIV Social Research and the Kirby Institute.
AFAO biomedical prevention policy spokesman Dean Murphy said the research team wanted to see how PrEP could be added to existing HIV prevention strategies for people who might benefit the most from it.
“The big incentive is that we have these new prevention goals which we have set for ourselves and I would suggest that we need to add some additional strategies to prevention strategies,” he told the Star Observer.
“For some people, it’s probably only a minority of people, this additional strategy might be really, really important.”
Murphy added there were minor concerns about PrEP’s impact on other prevention strategies.
Last year, an Australian survey found a majority of gay men would be willing to take PrEP.
However, about half the men said they would never need to take it while only 25 percent said they would use it as soon as it became available.
Murphy said the proposed study would focus on specific groups of gay men including men who had unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners and men who took both crystal meth and oral erectile-dysfunction drugs like Viagra.
The most notable PrEP trial to date has been the 2010 iPrEx study.
The iPrEx study trialled Truvada, a daily pill made up of a combination of antiretroviral drugs, on 2,499 participants in six countries.
It found the pill provided 44 percent additional protection against HIV infection for men who had sex with men when provided with other protective measures including condom use and HIV testing.
The Australian study could start as early as next year if funding was approved.