The F.D.A. just approved the first injectable HIV preventative

Getting six shots a year instead of taking a daily pill could change the game as far as HIV safety.

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With omicron wreaking havoc around the world, it’s easy to forget that we are still in the throes of another health crisis. While HIV treatment and prevention has come a long way in the past few decades, the disease has not been eradicated and millions of people around the world still suffer from the debilitating, and potentially deadly, effects of the virus. There is new reason for hope, though, because yesterday the F.D.A. approved Apretude, the first injectable H.I.V. preventative.

Daily PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) pills, such as Truvada and Descovy, have been available for around a decade and they’ve gone a long way in curbing the spread of H.I.V. The problem with the pills has always been that you have to take them everyday for them to be effective. Daily adherence to a pharmaceutical regime has proven to be challenging and unrealistic for many. That is all to say that an injectable medication like Apretude could make a big difference.

In trials, Apretude was found to be more effective than oral PReP at preventing H.I.V. transmission through sex, the Washington Post reported. That’s saying a lot, because oral PReP has been shown to be about 99% effective when taken as prescribed. “Today’s approval adds an important tool in the effort to end the HIV epidemic by providing the first option to prevent HIV that does not involve taking a daily pill,” Debra Birnkrant, director of the FDA’s antivirals division, told the Washington Post.

The schedule for taking Apretude is simply less onerous than the daily pills, although it does require more shots at first. Here’s how it works: An Apertude regime begins with two injections one month apart and then one injection every two months. So, for the first year, a person would need seven injections, but only six a year thereafter. You can probably see how getting a shot six times a year might be preferable to taking a pill every single day, especially when the consequences of forgetting are so high.

The drug’s manufacturer, ViiV Healthcare, an HIV-focused pharmaceutical company that is majority owned by GlaxoSmithKline, is planning to send Apertude to distributors in the U.S. early next year. The U.S. is the first country to approve the medication, but they have submitted requests for approval to Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Australia, the Post reported. Hopefully when Apertude rolls out, it will be easier to get than PReP pills, which are particularly hard to procure in the Deep South, where there are the greatest number of new H.I.V infections.

Hopefully, this will make PReP more accessible to individuals who need it most. In this country, H.I.V. disproportionately affects Black and Latino men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, and people who take drugs. In other words, while the country as a whole has made great strides in H.I.V. prevention, it’s still a major problem for historically marginalized populations, who already face higher health risks. Let’s hope that Apertude can start to change that.