Switching course, Gilead markets HIV drug for prevention – Reuters

 In Health

By Jilian Mincer
| NEW YORK

NEW YORK Gilead Sciences Inc has begun marketing its HIV treatment Truvada in a way thousands of consumers already use it – to prevent infection with the virus that causes AIDS.

The company introduced Truvada to the U.S. market in 2004 for HIV treatment. In 2012, Gilead won approval to market it for prevention after two large, peer-reviewed studies showed it also was effective at preventing infections in healthy people.

But the company decided against promoting the drug as a preventative treatment, deferring to patient advocates who feared it could encourage promiscuity and unsafe practices, such as having sex without condoms.

Even without Gilead’s help, many consumers learned Truvada was more than 90 percent effective in tests at preventing HIV infection. In 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended it as an option for people at high risk for HIV infection.

As many as 90,000 people in the United States used the drug for prevention, or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), last quarter. That’s up from 60,000 to 70,000 earlier this year, the company said. Usage also is growing in France, where about 2,000 people have been prescribed Truvada for prevention since January.

In July, the drugmaker began marketing Truvada for PrEP to doctors through professional publications, digital advertising and other channels, including the website PreventHIV.com.

And this fall, the drugmaker began marketing directly to consumers with print advertisements in publications geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including OUT, Advocate and SWERV. It plans soon to expand to social media and digital.

Gilead said it wants to reach people whose doctors are either unaware or reluctant to prescribe Truvada for prevention.

The marketing “is primarily driven by demand by patients,” said David Piontkowsky, Gilead’s vice president of HIV Medical Affairs, in an interview.

Attitudes toward Truvada started to change a couple years ago as doctors, AIDS activists and potential users saw its effectiveness, he said. The “criticism now is we’re not saying enough.”

Truvada is helping bolster Gilead’s profits as sales of its biggest moneymakers – treatments for hepatitis C – decline.

U.S. net product sales of Truvada for the first nine months of 2016 were $1.8 billion compared with $1.5 billion for the same period in 2015. The company said in its earnings report that the gain was driven by price increases as well as “increased usage of Truvada for PrEP.”

“We expect PrEP to continue to be a significant part of Gilead’s growth in HIV going forward, particularly in the U.S.,” Gilead Chief Operating Officer Kevin Young recently told investors.

The new Truvada campaign has been well received, even by those who once opposed promoting the drug for prevention. They include David Duran, a writer and HIV advocate, who helped popularize the term “Truvada Whore” in a 2012 article describing his fear that it would encourage people to have sex without condoms.

Duran began rethinking that concern about a year later in light of newer research showing that PrEP helped prevent more cases of HIV, without a rise in other sexually transmitted disease, which suggested people were using condoms.

“I’m thrilled they are starting to pump some money into marketing and awareness,” Duran said. “There is a solid base of folks who know about PrEP, but it’s still not a topic the country as a whole knows about.”

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