Scotland approves controversial 'game-changer' HIV drug

Henry Bodkin
An HIV testing kit: PrEP helps prevent the disease spreading - REUTERS

Scotland has become the first part of the UK to approve a controversial new drug which dramatically cuts the risk of catching HIV.

The Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) yesterday approved the routine use of PrEP, intended as a preventative treatment principally for gay and bisexual men who have unprotected sex.

The drug, which studies suggest can reduce the risk of infection by 90 per cent, has been described as a “game-changer” in the fight against the disease but labelled “promiscuity pills” by critics.

Prep, when used together with safer sex, practices may help reduce the spread of HIV

Dr Alan MacDonald, chairman, Scottish Medicines Consortium

Health officials had previously said that funding the expensive drug could mean children with cystic fibrosis, deaf children in need of hearing implants for hearing loss and amputees needing prosthetics could be denied treatment.

The SMC ruling follows a fierce legal battle south of the border last year, where NHS England unsuccessfully argued that it was not responsible for providing the medicine.

More than 10,000 gay men in England will now be offered the treatment as part of a trial, however it has not yet been approved for routine preventative use.

Campaigners said yesterday the “speed and decisiveness of the Scottish process contrasts starkly” with the situation in the rest of the UK.

They estimate that up to 1,900 people in Scotland could benefit from the drug, which as the brand name Truvada and costs around £450 a month.

SMC chairman Dr Alan MacDonald said: “Prep, when used together with safer sex, practices may help reduce the spread of HIV, which is an ongoing priority for the Scottish Government.”

The Terrence Higgins Trust Scotland said funding the drug could save the NHS in Scotland £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs for every person it saved from contracting HIV.

NHS England has denied that losing the High Court ruling played a direct role in its decision not to proceed with other expensive treatments last year, such as those for some blood cancer patients.

Officials have since said that their funding of the trial was made possible by PrEP manufacturers agreeing to lower their prices.

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