According to the World Health Organization, there are 34 million HIV-positive individuals in the world today, and the virus has claimed the lives of 25 million people since the initial cases of the infection were reported more than three decades ago. In the United States, data from the CDC reveals that approximately 50,000 new cases occur every year.
Despite these bleak statistics, researchers have made remarkable progress in slowing mortality rates over the years through the discovery of new medications.
The dramatic drop in HIV-related deaths that started in the mid-1990s was in large part due to the FDA’s approval of saquinavir, an antiretroviral drug that Roche marketed as Invirase, This was the first protease inhibitor discovered to treat HIV, and since then several more have become available to patients: AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV)‘s Norvir, GlaxoSmithKline plc (ADR) (NYSE:GSK)‘s Lexiva, and Bristol-Myers Squibb‘s Reyataz all belong to the same drug class.
In parallel with the development of more effective HIV treatments, researchers are also making tremendous progress in the prevention of this disease. So what were the key advancements in the past year that can help lower infection rates in the future?
A new use for an old drug
A research article published this week in The Lancet reported that Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD)‘s Viread can help prevent HIV transmission in users of injecting drugs. The study enrolled more than 2,400 HIV-negative drug users in Bangkok and compared infection rates between a group taking a daily dose of the medication and a placebo group. The data showed that the group on Viread had almost 50% fewer HIV infections.
Viread, a reverse transcriptase inhibitor that the FDA approved more than 10 years ago as an HIV treatment, is one of Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD)’s most important compounds. Not only is it the company’s third best-seling drug, but it’s also a component in its leading blockbuster combination treatments Atripla and Truvada. This newly published data suggests that Viread can now also be considered a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, for the prevention of HIV.
It’s unclear what public health programs will be established in light of these results. However, with the CDC estimating that injecting-drug use accounts for 8% of infections in the U.S., and considerably higher numbers reported in some Eastern European and Asian countries, this discovery will hopefully drive infection rates lower in the years to come.
Gilead’s first triumph
Viread is poised to be the second PrEP drug in Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD)’s portfolio. Almost a year ago, the FDA approved Truvada as a preventative drug for individuals at high risk of infection, including those in serodiscordant relationships (where one partner is HIV-negative and the other HIV-positive). This was the first medication for the prevention of HIV to be approved by the FDA, and it in clinical studies it lowered the chance of transmission by 42%.