‘Pivotal moment’ in battle against HIV as PrEP trials to start in September

The pioneering HIV prevention drug PrEP will be trialled by NHS England from September, it was this week announced.

The drug will be provided by the NHS through an initial three-year trial to around 10,000 people, in what is looking to be the largest single study of this type in the world.

In December last year, NHS England agreed to commission the drug, but only after a legal ruling that said the health organisation should be responsible for PrEP, rather than local government.

NHS England says that though HIV infection rates are falling in England, the trial will assess the full additional potential of PrEP by gathering clinical evidence to help inform further roll out of the drug.

Sexual health clinics at sites in London, Brighton, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield will be the first to enrol people in the impact trail later this year.

More clinics will then be added in October, and full implementation will be completed across England by April 2018 at the latest.

Officials at NHS England also confirmed that a successful international procurement to source the drugs for the trial has been completed, and that a contract has been signed that secured pricing consistent with the allocated £10m budget for the trials.

Clinics in the trial areas will identify eligible participants to consent in taking part in the trial, including men, women, transgender people, and those with a partner whose HIV status is not known to be controlled by retroviral treatment. 

“This major new intervention should complement and supercharge the wide-ranging and increasingly successful effort to prevent HIV,” said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England.  “It’s another milestone in more than three decade’s worth of progress in tackling one of humanity’s major health challenges.”

And Deborah Gold, CEO at the National AIDS Trust, added that the news of the trial was a “pivotal moment” in the fight against HIV.

“PrEP, if targeted properly at those in need and at risk, offers the possibility of transforming the English HIV epidemic,” she said.

“From September, people at high risk of HIV will have access via this NHS funded trial in England to an empowering new tool that is truly individually controlled and not subject to negotiation with a partner, leading to the improvement of many, many lives. We warmly welcome this announcement.”

Health minister Steve Brine also commented: “This trial will not only change the lives of those who participate, but it will give us further evidence on how we can use PrEP in the long-term fight against HIV – building on the good progress we have already made.”

Back in May, the Welsh government agreed to start its own PrEP trials in the summer, as well as move forward with trialling the HIV drug Truvada.

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