Canada Has Just Approved This Drug For HIV Prevention

    The decision could — theoretically — make it easier to get on PrEP.

    A drug proven to greatly reduce the chances of contracting HIV when taken daily has been approved for that use by Health Canada.

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    Truvada is already approved in Canada as an antiretroviral prescribed to treat patients with HIV.

    In HIV-negative people, however, studies have shown that taking it once per day can reduce the likelihood of contracting HIV by up to 92%.

    This method is called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and was formally approved by Health Canada on Feb. 23.

    "The drug is intended for use by high risk individuals – such as those whose sexual partner is HIV positive – in combination with safer sex practises, including condom use," a Health Canada spokesperson told BuzzFeed Canada.

    Although Canadian doctors were already allowed to prescribe Truvada as PrEP at their own discretion, the formal approval could make it easier — and cheaper — to access.

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    Truvada is pricey, running anywhere from $800 to $1,200 per month when used daily, although Quebec's drug plan does provide coverage

    Sean Hosein, the Science and Medicine Editor at CATIE, told BuzzFeed Canada last year that some private insurers may have been wary of covering PrEP without official approval. Health Canada's decision could potentially change that.

    Hosein also said having Health Canada's blessing means more doctors may feel comfortable prescribing it to patients.

    Gilead Sciences Canada, the maker of Truvada, submitted the application for PrEP approval in 2015 and announced the decision on Monday.

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    “Today’s approval of Truvada for PrEP in Canada represents a meaningful advance in Gilead’s efforts to address HIV across the entire spectrum, including prevention, treatment, and testing and linkage to care,” said Norbert W. Bischofberger, Gilead’s chief scientific officer, in a statement.

    “We are pleased to offer this important HIV prevention tool to at-risk populations in Canada and we remain engaged with regulatory agencies in other countries around the world that express interest in Truvada for PrEP.”

    The treatment has been approved in the U.S. since 2012. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say expanding its use could reduce new infection rates by up to 70% by 2020. There has been one reported case of a man on PrEP contracting HIV after taking the medication for two years.

    Lauren Strapagiel is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

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