Descovy can be purchased at most pharmacies, although a prescription and regular lab tests are required. This medication has been approved for the treatment of HIV-1 as well as for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in men and transgender women who have sex with men. If you’re considering using Descovy to prevent an HIV infection, it’s important to understand the differences between Descovy and Truvada, another type of PrEP medication made by the same company.
What Is Descovy?
Descovy is a prescription medication that was initially approved by the FDA in April 2016 for the treatment of HIV in adults and certain pediatric patients. When using Descovy to treat HIV, patients must take it in combination with other antiretroviral medications in order for it to be effective.
In October 2019, the FDA approved Descovy for another type of treatment: pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This particular brand of HIV-prevention therapy is only approved for HIV-negative individuals who are at risk for sexually acquired HIV through anal sex. It is not approved for individuals who are at risk for HIV from receptive vaginal sex.
How to Get Descovy
A prescription is required in order to get Descovy, so you’ll need to schedule a visit with a health care provider to get this PrEP medication. Before getting a prescription, you’ll have to complete some lab tests in order to confirm that you do currently have HIV or hepatitis B and demonstrate healthy kidney function. These tests need to be repeated every three months in order to renew your prescription. You’ll also need to be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every three to six months.
Your Descovy prescription can be filled at most pharmacies. If you’re not sure whether your local pharmacy can provide Descovy, you can call ahead of time to ask before visiting in person.
Another option is to get a prescription for Descovy online at Nurx™. The required lab tests can be completed at home, and if the results show that you are a good candidate for Descovy, you’ll get a three-month supply of pills sent directly to your home.
Cost of Descovy
The cost of Descovy is similar to that of Truvada at about $1,800 per month ($21,600 per year). This means that each pill costs approximately $60.
While that number is staggering, the good news is that very few patients end up paying the full price. PrEP is typically covered by public and private insurance. You should always check with your insurance before getting a prescription for Descovy to make sure that it is covered.
If you want to take Descovy but it is not covered or requires high copays, there are some programs available that may help to lower the cost. Gilead Advancing Access offers copay coupons that can cover up to $7,200 in copays per year. This program can also help identify potential sources of financial support if you are uninsured or have government insurance.
Similarities Between Descovy and Truvada
Descovy and Truvada are both used for PrEP and have several similarities, including:
- Dosage: These medications come in tablet form and need to be taken once a day every day (not just on days when you may have been exposed to HIV). Safer sex practices, like using condoms, should also be implemented when you’re taking either of these PrEP medications.
- Ingredients: Truvada and Descovy both contain emtricitabine and tenofovir, which help to block an enzyme called HIV reverse transcriptase. This prevents the virus from being copied in the body’s cells if you’re exposed to HIV.
- Effectiveness: Both medications are up to 99% effective at preventing HIV.
- Manufacturer: Descovy and Truvada are made by Gilead Sciences.
Differences Between Descovy and Truvada
There are two key differences between these PrEP medications. The main distinction between Truvada and Descovy is who can use it. Truvada is approved for use by anyone who is at risk for exposure to HIV as long as they are HIV-negative and have healthy kidneys.
Descovy, on the other hand, has only been tested in cisgender men and transgender women who have sex with men. It has only been studied for protection against HIV transmission through anal sex. The FDA has not approved this medication for individuals who have receptive vaginal sex (cisgender women and transgender men). This has caused some controversy in the medical community since it excludes a large group of people who may be at risk for HIV infection.
Another difference between Truvada and Descovy is the use of the ingredient tenofovir. While both medications contain this ingredient, Descovy uses a newer version of tenofovir. Data suggests that this may lead to fewer side effects on the kidneys and bones compared to Truvada. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these types of Truvada side effects are rare.
Possible Descovy Side Effects
When using Descovy, only about 2%-5% of patients reported adverse reactions. Possible side effects of Descovy include:
- Abdominal pain
These side effects occur at almost the same rate with both Descovy and Truvada.
In very rare cases, Descovy may lead to serious side effects, such as:
- Kidney problems (including kidney failure): Your health care provider will complete regular lab tests to monitor kidney health before and while taking Descovy.
- Lactic acidosis (too much lactic acid in the blood): If you experience symptoms like weakness, unusual muscle pain, stomach pain with nausea or vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, abnormal or fast heartbeat, or cold or blue hands and feet, seek medical attention right away.
- Severe liver problems: Tell your health care provider right away if you experience symptoms like yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes, dark-colored urine, light-colored stools, nausea, loss of appetite for several days or more, or pain in the stomach area.
To avoid adverse side effects, be sure to tell your health care provider about all medications you’re taking and any health problems you have before being prescribed Descovy.
Descovy – Dosage, Side Effects, AIDSinfo, October 2019
FDA approves second drug to prevent HIV infection as part of ongoing efforts to end the HIV epidemic, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, October 2019