In a victory for Aids campaigners, the UK Court of Appeal has ruled that National Health Service England is legally empowered to fund the HIV pill Truvada.
But, reports Reuters Health, it is still unclear whether the state system will have the financial resources to make the drug widely available.
So-called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) against HIV can cut the risk of getting the virus during sex by more than 90%, according to clinical studies. NHS (National Health Service) England had argued it was not in a position to fund the medicine because PrEP was a preventative service and therefore the responsibility of local authorities.
The report says the NHS lost that argument in an initial court case in August, prompting the appeal. “We are delighted to have been vindicated by the court a second time,” said Deborah Gold, CEO of the National Aids Trust (NAT), which brought the case. The NAT argues that PrEP is a potential game-changer and is urgently needed in Britain, where more than 4,000 people acquire HIV annually.
NHS England said it would now formally consider whether to fund PrEP. It noted the court ruling established that the NHS had the ability but not the obligation to pay for the medicine.
The report says Gilead Sciences‘ Truvada is currently the only drug approved in Europe for PrEP, although several generic companies in India make cut-price versions of the product. The original Gilead drug costs around £400 ($500) for a month’s supply and its unavailability on the state health service has prompted some people to turn to online “buyers clubs” to get cheaper copies delivered from India.
NHS England said it would ask Gilead to reconsider its current “excessively high pricing” and would also explore options for using generics. “We expect to be able to update on these developments shortly,” it said.
According to the report, Gilead said it welcomed the appeal court decision and hoped NHS England would make PrEP available as soon as possible. It had no comment on the call for lower Truvada prices.
Use of PrEP is rising fast in the US, where tens of thousands of people are now taking it to prevent infection. It is also being rolled out in other parts of Europe.Reuters Health report