The UK is to be offered a pill that reduces risk of contracting HIV by up to 90%.
The daily tablet could soon be offered on the NHS and it is being described as the ‘most exciting development in HIV prevention’ in years.
A landmark trial in England is to be dramatically sped up after it was found taking a single dose of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the drug Truvada, provided unprecedented levels of protection.
Researchers prescribed the drug to 407 men across the country, and describe it as a big success. A further 138 men waiting to start the couse will now be offered the drug immediately.
Dr Sheena McCormack of the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at University College London, who is leading the PROUD study, said it could lead to a major reduction in the number of new infections.
‘The exciting opportunity this offers is to make the biggest dent in the epidemic of all time. It will be better than treatment as prevention,’ she said.
The drug could be made available to high-risk groups across England from as early as 2017.
In previous studies, it was found Truvada can prevent infection in nine out of 10 cases.
Dr Rosemary Gillespie, chief executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said it was highly unusual to fast-track research in this way.
‘This is potentially the most exciting development in HIV prevention in some years,’ she said.
‘The PROUD study has accelerated their part of the process. We will now be looking to the NHS to match that pace, and act swiftly to ensure those most at risk of HIV in the UK can access PrEP.’
Yusef Azad, director of policy and campaigns at the National AIDS Trust, said: ‘These encouraging results provide powerful evidence that PrEP should be accessible to all who need it as soon as possible.’
It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people in the UK are currently living with HIV, with a fifth of those believed to be undiagnosed.
In July this year, the World Health Organization caused controversy when they suggested every single sexually active gay and bisexual man should be on drugs to prevent HIV.
The United States, which offers Truvada for around $13,000 (€10,000) a year but is covered by most health insurance plans, has had a low take-up rate among HIV negative men since it first became available two years ago.
With only around 10,000 prescriptions annually, more and more federal health officials are encouaging gay and bisexual men to take the drug.
In New York, the drug was recently unveiled as a key way of elimating the AIDS epidemic by 2020.