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FDA Approves a New, Safer HIV Drug Called Descovy


The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new antiretroviral medication created by Gilead for mass market consumption. The drug, named Descovy, is notable for it's unique design which allows it to enter the patient's cells in a more efficent manner than prior drugs, and leaves significantly less tenofovir in the patient's body.

This is an important step in safeguarding against some of the severe side effects of antiretroviral therapy, including kidney problems and loss in bone density. Descovy is a prodrug, a medication that is inert until it it consumed by the patient. It combines 200 mg of emtricitabine and 25 mg of tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), which lowers the amount of HIV in a user's blood more efficently than older antiretrovirals. In clinical trials, Descovy was able to lower the HIV in someone's body as well as Viread, but by using one-tenth the size dosage.

Descovy joins two other new TAF-based HIV drugs from Gilead launched this year: Genvoya and Odefsey. According to Medscape, all three of these drugs "are identical to earlier HIV drugs in Gilead Sciences' portfolio, except that TAF replaces [tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, an earlier compound]. Descovy, Genvoya, and Odefsey, in other words, are second-generation versions of Truvada, Stribild, and Complera, respectively."

Descovy's unique combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir soften the impact of antiretroviral therapy on the body's renal system as well as it's impact on bone density, both of which have become serious issues with antiretroviral therapy as many poz individuals are living longer lives. That said, Gilead still encourages physicians to monitor bone density and renal function of patients.

"Descovy represents an important evolution in HIV care. As part of a single tablet regimen or partnered with a third agent, the components of Descovy offer patients a simple and effective combination with a safety profile that has the potential to improve health," said Dr. Norbert Bischofberger, Executive Vice President of Research and Development at Gilead Sciences, in a written statement.  

Descovy is not, however, a cure, nor is it a silver bullet. The medication is intended to be taken alongside other antiretroviral medication. It also has major, but rare, side effects that the user must watch for, including a risk of lactic acid buildup in the bloodstream, as well as abnormal swelling of the liver. Sadly, the drug is  not the best option for HIV-positive individuals who are also living with hepatitis B. It has not been approved for use for coinfected persons because it can greatly increase already existing symptoms of hepatitis B. 

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