What Is Descovy? All About the New HIV Prevention Drug

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For years, the pharmaceutical company Gilead has advanced its pill Truvada as the sole medication capable of preventing HIV transmission. This modestly-sized blue pill, more commonly known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), stimulates the body to formulate HIV antibodies in case the immune system encounters the HIV virus. PrEP has a nearly 100 percent success rate in preventing HIV transmission.

However, the power of PrEP hasn’t stopped Gilead from rolling out another HIV prevention drug. Recently, the FDA approved a new Gilead drug called Descovy. Here’s a rundown of Descovy, Truvada, and Gilead’s role in HIV prevention medicine.

Why is Gilead pushing Descovy?

Earlier this year, Gilead said that generic Truvada may become available in 2020, as the pill is expected to lose its patent protection sometime next year. The introduction of generic Truvada could open PrEP access to economic groups previously unable to access it. This, in turn, could hurt Gilead’s profits, so the company may be pushing Descovy to ensure it continues to make money.

Will Descovy improve on Truvada?

Although Truvada has revolutionized the battle against HIV, the pill isn’t perfect. In particular, it can cause harm to the kidney and skeletal system in certain patients. Scientific trials have shown that Descovy use does not as strongly correlate with these side effects. However, since these side effects remain rare, HIV destigmatization activists have wondered why Truvada users would switch to Descovy as generic – and, theoretically, cheaper – Truvada becomes available.

How much will Descovy cost?

Among the controversies surrounding PrEP is its exorbitant price, with Gilead often accused of price gouging. Descovy will do nothing to quell accusers, as Gilead is selling it at the same price as Truvada: a whopping $1,758 per month. 

That said, certain PrEP users can get Truvada for heavily discounted prices or even for free. The company offers a co-pay program for which anybody can apply, though not everybody will be eligible. Gilead plans to roll out a similar program for Descovy.

How big is the potential market for Descovy?

To look at how many people might opt for Descovy prescriptions, a thorough understanding of the current Truvada market is required. In 2018, national Truvada sales totaled $2.6 billion, though this number is expected to drop to merely $428 million by 2024. Last year, Descovy sales totaled $1.2 billion and are expected to reach $2.9 billion by 2024. Gilead says that in the second quarter of 2019, 213,000 people were using Truvada. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that roughly five times more people could benefit from PrEP use.

Who can use Descovy and Truvada?

At the moment, the FDA has only approved Descovy for cisgender men and transgender women, whereas Truvada is approved for cisgender women as well.

How else can HIV transmission can be prevented?

To prevent HIV transmission, always use new condoms during sexual intercourse, and always use, clean, new unshared needles when injecting intravenous fluids. Additionally, if you are HIV-positive, tell your sexual partners and consider getting PEP.

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