HIV prevention drug PrEP is set to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

Alfred Hospital’s PrEPX project leader associate professor Edwina Wright said putting the HIV drug PrEP on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme could be "remarkable".
Alfred Hospital’s PrEPX project leader associate professor Edwina Wright said putting the HIV drug PrEP on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme could be "remarkable".

With the possibility that a revolutionary HIV drug will be listed for federal subsidy this week, the head of a study into its effectiveness with trials in Ballarat has touted its importance. 

Hopes are high particularly in the gay community that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee will on Friday issue a long-awaited "positive recommendation" for Truvada, commonly known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).

Fairfax Media understands Health Minister Greg Hunt will then move quickly to list the drug on the Pharamaceutical Benefits Scheme.

That will bring the price of the drug from as much as $10,000 a year down to just $39.50 per script, or just a couple of hundred dollars a year.

Fourty-five Ballarat people are involved in the statewide PrEPX study, which studies its impacts on rates of new HIV infections in Victoria.

Alfred Hospital’s PrEPX project leader, associate professor Edwina Wright, said there is good knowledge of PrEP and its benefits among men who have sex with men, and they would be willing to use it if it was available.

“People deserve excellent health care no matter where they live,” she said. 

“Prep has been shown to be a remarkably powerful tool to prevent HIV. It can reduce HIV transmission by 99 per cent.

“When you’ve got such a powerful tool, you want it to be available to all people.

“The aim for the study was to see if you got enough people who are high risk taking PrEP, whether you could drive down the number of HIV infections.

“It’s intervention at a population level.”

Dr Wright said the study was still in progress and it was too early to tell the impact of the drug on HIV infections across the population. More than 4,000 people are currently part of the PrEPX project. 

The drug was approved for use as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in 2016 but the advisory committee subsequently announced it had rejected a proposal to list it on the benefits scheme due to price concerns.

New Zealand on Wednesday became one of the first countries in the world to publicly fund PrEP, meaning it will be subisdised from March 1. 

Mr Hunt said in December said he would not pre-empt the committee's decision but "we are making very good progress" on negotiations.

With the Sydney Morning Herald