Implant the Size of a Matchstick Could Be a Big Breakthrough in HIV Prevention

That development by Merck, as well as a vaccine by Janssen, take direct aim at the problem of adherence.

The study involved just 16 people and the product realistically won’t hit the market for years, but an implantable device that doles out anti-HIV medication still caused quite a stir when it was unveiled yesterday. That’s because, as reported in several outlets, the device would remove nonadherence as an obstacle to keeping people HIV free. The device, which would slowly release a new drug, islatravir, into the bloodstream, could keep high-risk patients safe for a year. When it loses its potency, the old device (which would be inserted in the arm) could be replaced with a newer one.

As the Washington Post reports (a story picked up by the Philadelphia Inquirer) the device “has prompted interest because the new drug is potent and the method of releasing it could solve a long-standing problem for people who have trouble with other methods of blocking HIV. In the United States, that is mainly men from minority groups who have sex with other men.”

Meanwhile, Janssen Pharmaceutical announced that it has developed a four-vaccine regimen that appears to have a long-lasting effect.

The common protocol for keeping at-risk people HIV free is Truvada, a daily regimen of pre-exposure prophylaxis pills. “But Truvada costs about $1,600 a month for those who must pay full price,” the Post reports. “Even some who can afford the drug, or who are aided by subsidies, have trouble adhering to the daily regimen. Others have never heard of it. As a result, only a fraction of the more than 1 million Americans who should be taking the drug are on it, according to the CDC.”