A man holds a Truvada PrEP pill
Posed by models (Photo: Shutterstock)

As most people who takes PrEP daily will tell you, remembering to take it can be a chore. Injectable PrEP is now available but only a small number of men are using it. We’re sure most daily users would jump at the chance of switching to a once-a-week pill.

It appears a race is now on to get such a pill to the market. The CDC recently announced encouraging results from studies of a new, once-a-week PrEP tablet. It contains tenofovir alafenamide (TAF). This is a newer formulation of tenofovir disoproxil (TDF), the drug found in Truvada. 

TAF is already used and is known to have fewer side effects on the kidneys. However, it is only used in combination with emtricitabine (Descovy). 

Monkey study

The CDC tested various dosages of TAF on monkeys. Researchers measured the levels of the drug in their system after six days. They also attempted to infect the monkeys with HIV. They repeated this process over several weeks and checked each week to see if the monkey’s acquired the virus.

The study found that TAF, at a certain dosage once a week, offers 94% protection from acquiring HIV.

Of course, that might not be a high enough protection level to encourage many regular PrEP users to switch from daily pills. However, the researchers feel it is encouraging enough for further research.

“Weekly dosing with oral TAF demonstrated high efficacy against vaginal and rectal SHIV infection in two macaque models of HIV PrEP,” they concluded.

“Our findings support the clinical development of weekly oral TAF for long-acting non-daily PrEP.”

Having lots of options allows for flexibility. Also, taking a once-a-week PrEP pill that offers 94% effectiveness is potentially better than taking daily PrEP if you keep missing several doses every week.

It could also prove a game-changer if rolled out in parts of the world where distributing free, daily medication is a challenge. Getting people on to any sort of PrEP is better than none at all.

Other long-acting medication in development

TAF is not the only once-a-week PrEP being explored. In March, the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2024) in Denver heard about another long-acting PrEP medication in development. 

Merck is exploring a drug currently named MK-8527. The pharm company believes it shows potential both as a once-a-week treatment for HIV and a once-a-month form of PrEP.

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