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Gilead Begins Marketing Truvada as PrEP to LGBTQ Community

Tags: PrEP, Prevention

Gilead Sciences, Inc., the makers of the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drug, Truvada, has now begun marketing the drug as a preventative medicine for HIV-negative healthy people.

Although the FDA gave Gilead the approval to market Truvada in 2012 as a preventative medicine for healthy HIV-negative people, the company has only just started to market it this way. They have launched advertising in publications aimed at the LGBTQ community, such as OUT Magazine, The Advocate and SWERV, and will soon begin social media and digital marketing campaigns.

Truvada for PrEP has begun to catch on even without Gilead’s commercial support, and as many as 90,000 people in the U.S. are now using the drug to help prevent HIV.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 1.2 million people are still at-risk of HIV infection, which means that just as many people could benefit from the drug as a preventive measure.

For the last few years, Gilead has been conflicted with some HIV/AIDS activists arguing that promoting Truvada as a preventative drug for HIV would encourage unsafe practices and promote promiscuity, while other activists assert that the company needed to invest more of its own money to advertise the drug as a preventative measure.

Due to Gilead’s lack of advertising, many doctors have been unaware of PrEP and Gilead’s patient assistance program, which helps most users pay only $25 a month for the otherwise expensive drug that could amount to a cost of thousands of dollars a month.

“[The] criticism now is we're not saying enough," David Piontkowsky, Gilead's vice president of HIV Medical Affairs, told the news service. But the marketing "is primarily driven by demand by patients.”

For a brief recap of Truvada’s reputation, back in 2014, Michael Weinstein, the president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) referred to Truvada as a “party drug.” He was quoted as saying in an article: "If something comes along that's better than condoms, I'm all for it, but Truvada is not that. Let's be honest: It's a party drug."

Weinstein’s comments outraged some gay activists and members of the HIV/AIDS community, who even called for his resignation. By calling Truvada a party drug, he allegedly put the PrEP treatment drug in the same category as coke, ecstasy and methamphetamine, and allegedly fueled the image of men who take Truvada as reckless rather than safe.

In a clinical trial, 78 percent of men who did qualify to use Truvada based on their sexual history did not believe that their risk was sufficient enough to start taking the drug. Rather than looking at Truvada as the smart option, they thought that only risky and careless men would start taking Truvada.

The drug’s reputation combined with its costs may have led to many gay men opting out of using the drug over the years. In one study, 79 percent of gay men knew about Truvada, but only 11 percent had tried it. In an opinion column published in The Washington Post, writer Richard Morgan largely blames gay rights groups for the drug’s lack of popularity.

Morgan writes, “Gay rights groups are largely to blame. Rather than educating men about Truvada, they’ve focused on stamping out the stigma around HIV.”

Attitudes toward Truvada started to change a couple of years ago as doctors, AIDS activists and potential users saw its effectiveness.

“PrEP helped prevent more cases of HIV, without a rise in other sexually transmitted disease," Gilead noted.

The new Truvada campaign has been well received, even by those who once opposed promoting the drug for prevention. That list includes David Duran, a writer and HIV advocate, who helped popularize the term "Truvada Whore" in a 2012 article describing his fear that it would encourage people to have sex without condoms. Duran changed his opinion in light of newer research showing that PrEP helped prevent more cases of HIV without a rise in other sexually transmitted infections.

"I'm thrilled they are starting to pump some money into marketing and awareness," Duran said. "There is a solid base of folks who know about PrEP, but it's still not a topic the country as a whole knows about."

The new marketing technique would not only prevent many Americans from contracting HIV, but also unlocks a revenue opportunity for Gilead. The company hopes that Truvada will helping bolster Gilead's profits as sales of its biggest moneymakers - treatments for Hepatitis C - decline.

“We expect PrEP to continue to be a significant part of Gilead’s growth in HIV going forward, particularly in the U.S.,” said Gilead CEO Kevin Young.