Minister for Health David Davis announced a $320,000 grant for the Victorian Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Demonstration project, led by Monash University and Alfred Health at the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health 30th anniversary celebration on the weekend.
PrEP involves administering daily anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-negative people who are at high risk of acquiring HIV, such as those who have an HIV-positive partner. In international trials, when used with traditional prevention measures, PrEP has reduced HIV transmission by between 44 and 70 per cent.
Victoria has the second highest rate of HIV diagnoses in Australia, with 260 cases in 2011. The PrEP trial aims to determine the effectiveness of the strategy in the local setting and the factors that contribute to its success. Gilead Sciences will be providing the study drug, Truvada.
Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Monash, Professor Sharon Lewin, said PrEP was an exciting addition to the multiple new methods of preventing HIV transmission.
“However, the success of PrEP is very much dependent on the local context – specifically the local epidemiology of HIV transmission and local practises of at-risk groups. This project will provide critical information to develop appropriate policies around PrEP that are suitable for the Australian context,” Professor Lewin said.
The trial will recruit 200 participants from at-risk populations in Victoria. Truvada will be administered to half the cohort for up to 12 months. The other participants will have elected not to use Truvada but agree to provide relevant information through regular on-line surveys.
The three-year trial will be led by Associate Professor Edwina Wright of Monash University and Alfred Health.
“This is an important study for Australians at risk of HIV infection,” Associate Professor Wright said
“It is unique in its design of enrolling people who are equally at risk of HIV infection but who choose not to use PrEP as part of their HIV prevention strategy. Also it’s a great collaboration between a number of research centers and our Victorian HIV expert general practice clinics.”
Next year, Professor Lewin will co-chair AIDS 2014, the largest medical conference to be held in Australia.
“Victoria has a history of innovation with HIV research and care initiatives and the commencement of the PrEP trial will demonstrate our continuing leadership in this area to the international HIV researchers and clinicians who will gather in Melbourne next year,” Professor Lewin said.
Partner organisations in the PrEP demonstration trial include, The Centre for Social Research in Health, several HIV high caseload general practitioners in Melbourne, The Burnet Institute, The Kirby Institute and the University of London.