UK’s largest trial of HIV-preventing PrEP drugs set to start this summer

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The government has confirmed a major trial of HIV-preventing PrEP drugs in the UK is expected to start this summer.

Appearing before Parliament today, health minister Nicola Blackwood confirmed that plans are still progressing for a trial of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis drugs, first announced last year.

She confirmed: “£10 million has been set aside to fund the trial. It is anticipated that it will include at least 10,000 participants over the next three years.

“We expect the trial to be underway this summer, and it does have the potential to change the lives of thousands of people at risk of contracting HIV.”

NHS England said previously: “Although the evidence around the clinical effectiveness of PrEP is strong, advice from Public Health England has highlighted significant outstanding implementation questions that should be answered prior to using PrEP in a sustained way on a substantial scale in England. These questions will be answered by the clinical trial, paving the way for full rollout.

“Detailed planning will now take place to ensure the launch and the clinical trial phase can begin as swiftly as possible. Up to £10 million will be made available over the next three years to fund all aspects of the trial.”

Elsewhere, Ms Blackwood came under pressure from MPs over reports of dire cuts to HIV prevention and support services.

Though the government has not directly slashed funding for HIV services, there has been a significant squeeze on the budgets of cash-strapped local authorities, many of whom have had no choice but to axe HIV services to meet central government austerity targets.

Addressing the reports, the minister admitted: “I do recognise that local authority funding remains tight and that councils have tough decisions to make to ensure that vital public services remain sustainable.”

She said local councils should focus on the “most effective and efficient use of resources available”, adding that the government and Public Health England would roll out an “action plan” on the issue.

Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug Truvada can reduce the risk of being infected with HIV by up to 86% if taken daily, and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for at-risk men who have sex with men (MSM).

Last year NHS England took to the courts to argue that it is not responsible for commissioning the drugs, in a contentious spat with HIV activists. The body had attempted to place the burden of PrEP commissioning on local authorities, whose HIV prevention budgets are already squeezed.

Though it did eventually agree to launch the trial after losing the bitter court battle, it continues to maintain that it does not have an “obligation” to commission services.