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Is Descovy Approved for PrEP?

Yes, Descovy was granted approval by the Food and Drug Administration in October 2019 as the second pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP) medication available for cisgender men and transgender women. Descovy is made by the pharmaceutical company Gilead, the makers of Truvada, the first FDA approved PrEP. Each tablet in Descovy’s 30-day supply contains the two active ingredients emtricitabine (200 mg) and tenofovir alafenamide (25 mg), designed to protect against the infection of HIV. A prescription for Descovy is good for three months as testing intervals are required to continue taking Descovy.

Who Descovy is Right For

Descovy is PrEP designed for HIV negative at-risk adults and adolescents. Descovy works differently on renal tissue than it does on vaginal tissue, so it is prescribed to cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men. Descovy is not right for individuals at-risk of HIV infection through receptive vaginal sex. The effects on cisgender women and transgender men who engage in receptive vaginal sex have not been adequately evaluated and Descovy is not yet proven for these populations.

Descovy may be effective for at-risk adolescents over the age of 12 and weighing at least 77 lbs (35 kg). Adolescent candidates for Descovy may benefit from additional counseling on the importance of taking their medication. Adolescents may benefit from more frequent testing while taking Descovy to ensure they are using the medication correctly.

Before Descovy is prescribed, you’ll need to be tested for HIV and STIs, especially hepatitis B (HBV). Descovy can worsen liver conditions for those infected with hepatitis B. For those with renal function issues, Descovy may increase the risk for renal impairment or renal failure.

A Brief History of Descovy

In April of 2016, Descovy was approved as antiretroviral treatment for HIV infection. When Descovy is combined with other antiretroviral medications (ARVs) in the treatment of HIV, viral loads may be reduced to undetectable levels, which makes long-term health outlooks much brighter.

The pre-exposure prophylactic Truvada contains the drug combination of emtricitabine/tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (FTC/TDF). The new combination of medication in Descovy, emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide (FTC/TAF ),  showed promise as an effective pre-exposure prophylactic. Descovy was subject to clinical trials for three years as a PrEP candidate and received FDA approval in October 2019.

Results of the DISCOVER Study

On September 2, 2016, a randomized, double-blind study began to assess Descovy for PrEP. Test participants consisted of 5,400 cisgender men and transgender women who were having sex with men, were considered high-risk for HIV infection, but who tested HIV negative.

Study participants received either Truvada or Descovy for daily oral PrEP and preliminary results indicated that Descovy was just as effective as Truvada in preventing HIV infections.

Moreover, Descovy was well tolerated by participants and very few people experienced adverse effects. Markers for bone and kidney health both improved with continued use of Descovy. Where Truvada runs a risk of bone mineral density loss, Descovy increased bone density, a significant difference.

Neither Descovy nor Truvada is approved to treat any other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis.

A Call for Further Research

While Truvada is the best PrEP solution for cisgender women and transgender men, the LGBTQ community has called for testing of Descovy for cisgender women and transgender men. Activists also call for more diversity and inclusion when selecting study participants.  Plans are underway for Gilead to begin studies of Descovy on 1,500 high-risk women in South Africa. Results are expected by the end of 2020. Gilead is also said to be testing the possibility of an 8-week injection designed to extend and enforce protection against HIV infection.

While advancements in PrEP development are promising, the cost of PrEP remains high. At the moment, there is no generic equivalent to either Truvada or Descovy. Petitions have called for Gilead to lower subscription costs to make this life-saving drug available and affordable. If you’re eligible for Descovy, contact your Nurx™ medical provider so we can get you started with testing and payment assistance, or answer any questions you may have about Descovy.

Common Misconceptions About PrEP

Since there are currently only two FDA approved medications for PrEP, misconceptions about how Descovy works or how it protects may come up. We clear up four common misunderstandings about PrEP.

  • PrEP is only used before sex. Descovy protects best when a consistent level of medication is in your system. Descovy is prescribed as a once-daily oral PrEP for the prevention of HIV. When first starting Descovy, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends taking PrEP for at least 21 days before engaging in sex to ensure the drug is protecting you. Commit to taking Descovy every day to ensure it protects you the way it is intended.
  • You don’t need condoms. No medication is 100% effective and Descovy does not protect against STIs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, or chlamydia. It makes sense to use condoms every time you have sex to further your protection and reinforce your peace of mind.
  • PrEP encourages promiscuity. In some cases, the LGBTQ community may face some stigmas around the use of PrEP such as suggestions the medication promotes irresponsibility. The reality is that Descovy is a safe-sex practice and the use of Descovy promotes and encourages other safe-sex practices.
  • Side effects. For those worried about the side effects of Descovy, rest assured that very few side effects were reported during the DISCOVER study. In fact, less than 5% of study participants experienced common side effects such as headache, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, or stomach pain.
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