A Burnet-supported landmark study into new HIV prevention medication, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), has reached a major milestone with more than 1300 Victorians now accessing the leading-edge treatment.
Victorian Minister for Health, the Hon Jill Hennessy MP today officially launched PrEPX, a new study that will provide up to 2,600 people with PrEP through a partnership between the Victorian Government, Alfred Health, Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), Burnet Institute and the University of New South Wales.
The State Government is providing $1.4 million towards the 20-month study, which is operating at sites across metropolitan Melbourne including The Alfred hospital and Melbourne Sexual Health Centre pharmacies.
Later this year the study intends to expand to primary care clinics in large regional cities such as Geelong, Wodonga and Bendigo and outer metropolitan clinics.
In just four weeks, 1,300 Victorians at risk of HIV infection have already signed up to PrEPX.
Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard said the rapid uptake of clinically supervised PrEP among gay men in Victoria through PrEPX is unprecedented internationally.
“The demand speaks to the need to support a suite of evidence-based HIV prevention choices in Australia,” Professor Hellard said.
IMAGE: Professor Margaret Hellard presents at the PrEPX study launch
“With the innovative HIV surveillance system maintained at Burnet Institute with support from the Victorian Government, we are also in a unique position to determine the population-level impact of PrEP.
“Our experiences with the scale-up of PrEP will therefore have global influence on the future of HIV prevention.”
PrEPX is expected to reduce new HIV infections in Victoria by up to 30 per cent over the next few years.
PrEP involves the use of the antiretroviral drug Truvada by people who are HIV negative but at high risk of contracting HIV to lower their chances of becoming infected.
Research and trials have shown that Truvada is highly effective if taken daily.
Lead researcher and infectious disease physician at The Alfred, Associate Professor Edwina Wright said this was the only PrEP study in Australia where PrEP is being dispensed through community pharmacies.
“The community pharmacy approach and the fact we are the first study in the world to use only generic PrEP, as well as the unique study design, have generated interest from a number of leading international public health institutions,” Associate Professor Wright said.
IMAGE: (L-R) VAC CEO Simon Ruth, Professor Margaret Hellard, Victorian Health Minister the Hon Jill Hennessy MP, Associate Professor Edwina Wright at the PrEPX study launch
Meanwhile the State Government has called on the Commonwealth to review a ruling against listing Truvada on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
“A decision to not list Truvada on the PBS is extremely disappointing,” Victorian Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy said.
“The Federal Government needs to stop delaying and make this drug more affordable and accessible for people at risk of HIV.
“PrEP is critical to achieving our state and national goal of virtual elimination of new HIV infections by 2020.”
VAC CEO Simon Ruth said the PBS knockback for Truvada underscores the importance of the PrEPX study for Victorians at risk of HIV.
“VAC has been working for years now to make sure gay men and others at risk of HIV understand what PrEP is, how it works and why it’s important,” Mr Ruth said.
“The people already enrolled in PrEPX are people taking responsibility for their own sexual health and the health of their community, and we should applaud them for that.”
Click here to find out more about the PrEPX study.