Gilead Sciences Inc. has begun marketing its HIV treatment Truvada in a way thousands of consumers already use it – to prevent infection with the virus that causes AIDS.
The company introduced Truvada to the U.S. market in 2004 for HIV treatment. In 2012, Gilead won approval to market it for prevention after two large, peer-reviewed studies showed it also was effective at preventing infections in healthy people. "We've come as far as we can with condom use and safe sex strategies," Dr. Lisa Sterman said at the time. The Food and Drug Administration finally conceded and endorsed using Truvada as a preventive, recommended as an option for people at high risk for HIV infection.
But Gilead decided against promoting the drug as a preventative treatment, deferring to HIV advocates who feared it could encourage "promiscuity" and more condomless sex. This hasn't stopped the drug company from providing grants to non-profit organizations to produce public service announcements like the ones Plus reported on last year produced by Public Health Solutons and Connected Health Solutions featuring adult film star J.D. Phoenix.
This past fall, the drugmaker began marketing directly to consumers with print advertisements in publications geared toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including Plus sister magazines OUT and The Advocate, and SWERV. It plans soon to expand to social media and digital.
"We expect PrEP to continue to be a significant part of Gilead's growth in HIV going forward, particularly in the U.S.," Gilead's chief operating officer Kevin Young recently told investors.
The new Truvada campaign has been well received, even by those who once opposed promoting the drug for prevention. They include David Duran, a writer and HIV advocate, who helped popularize the term "Truvada Whore" in a 2012 article describing his fear that it would encourage people to have sex without condoms. (He later said he disagreed with the fears and the slut-shaming that came along with the term.)
In the meantime, the concept of taking an HIV drug to prevent infection is making inroads in popular U.S. culture. It came up in a recent episode of Transparent, the Emmy award-winning Amazon series about a family with a transgender parent, when a character was contemplating sex with an HIV-positive partner, and has been a storyline on HBO's Looking and ABC's How to Get Away With Murder.