Inside DESCOVY: The New Face of HIV Prevention

Truvada has long been the face of HIV prevention. By taking the pill once a day, high-risk individuals can radically reduce their chances of contracting the virus. However, some in the medical community have expressed concerns over the long-term side-effects of taking Truvada, including kidney damage. Truvada is also famously one of the most expensive drugs on the market, costing around $1,933 for a supply of 30 tablets.

There’s a new drug on the market that’s designed to prevent HIV infections in high-risk individuals: DESCOVY. The drug comes with fewer side effects than Truvada. This marks a major breakthrough in combating the HIV epidemic. Find out more about this exciting new drug and how it can benefit high-risk populations.

What Is DESCOVY?

For several years, Truvada was the only drug on the market for HIV prevention. When taken daily, it reduces the chances of an individual contracting the virus by up to 99%. The drug is manufactured by Gilead Sciences, but with its high cost and long-term side effects, experts have long sought to create an alternative.

The FDA approved DESCOVY for pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP back in October 2019. It’s a once-daily prescription medicine for adults and adolescents with a high risk of contracting HIV. It helps reduce the chances of getting HIV through sex. However, it’s important to remember that DESCOVY does not cure HIV or AIDS; it only prevents the virus from taking root in the patient. More research is needed to see whether the drug can prevent the spread of HIV among people who have vaginal sex. As of now, women make up less than 10% of those who take Truvada.

Patients must be HIV negative before taking the drug. They will then need to get tested every three months while taking DESCOVY. The drug does not protect against other STDs, so patients should still practice safe sex. If the patient misses a few doses, the drug becomes less effective at preventing new infections, so it’s best to take it every day.

Some possible side-effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach pain
  • Worsening of hepatitis B infections
  • Possible kidney problems
  • Too much lactic acid in the blood
  • Severe liver problems

Truvada vs. DESCOVY

If you’re wondering about the differences between these two drugs, you’re not alone. Healthcare providers are routinely encouraging their patients to switch from Truvada to DESCOVY for several reasons.

Here are some of the main differences between these drugs:

  • Both drugs contain emtricitabine and tenofovir for the treatment of HIV-1 infection, and for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the risk of HIV-1 infection. However, DESCOVY contains a newer form of tenofovir called tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), and Truvada contains the original form of tenofovir as tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF). TAF enters HIV-infected cells much more efficiently than TDF, so patients can take DESCOVY at lower doses than they would Truvada and the drug will still be effective.
  • TAF has also been associated with less kidney toxicity and fewer decreases in bone density than TDF.
  • DESCOVY pills are also much smaller than Truvada. Patients will likely enjoy taking a smaller pill, especially if they have trouble swallowing.

However, some experts have argued that DESCOVY is not all that dissimilar from Truvada. Both drugs are manufactured by Gilead Sciences. Some believe the company is trying to convert as many Truvada patients to DESCOVY as possible before generic PrEP drugs hit the market later this year, which would diminish Gilead’s control of the market.

With a lower price tag, Generic PrEP would make these drugs more available to high-risk populations, including low-income communities and the uninsured that may not be able to afford Truvada or DESCOVY.

DESCOVY currently carries the same price tag as Truvada. However, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is expected to launch a generic version of Truvada later this year.

Closing the Door on HIV

The HIV epidemic is far from over. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 38,739 people received an HIV diagnosis in the U.S. in 2017. To help combat the epidemic, President Trump unveiled a new initiative called Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America during his State of the Union address in February 2019. The government hopes to reduce new infections by 75% in the next five years and by 90% in the next ten years, averting more than 250,000 HIV infections in that span.

PrEP is a major part of this initiative. The Trump Administration wants to send additional expertise, new technology, and more funding and resources, including PrEP, to communities that have been hit hardest by the virus.

 

If some of your patients face a high risk of contracting HIV, you may want to suggest DESCOVY. Switching your patients over from Truvada to DESCOVY can also reduce some of the harmful side-effects of treatment. Keep this information in mind to help reduce the number of new HIV infections. Together we can all do our part to put an end to the virus.

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