Courtesy of LA Times

The California HIV/AIDS Research Program (CHRP) of the University of California recently announced that it would participate in the largest HIV prevention pill test in the United States. The CHRP will divide $11.8 million to medical groups including three UC campuses—UC Los Angeles, UC San Francisco and UC San Diego—to help curb the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in California.

“HIV has been with us for more than 30 years, and it’s time to provide some new interventions for high-risk people so they have options to protect themselves and prevent further transmission. We hope this new approach can finally help to curtail the epidemic in this state,” stated Dr. George Lemp, director of the CHRP, in a UC Newsroom article.

Two of the three campus teams will be engaged in a four-year program in which they will treat uninfected individuals with the prevention pill (PrEP: pre-exposure prophylaxis with antiretroviral drugs) while infected individuals will receive innovative medicine and post-infection treatment known as TLC+. The remaining group will not be implementing the TLC+/PrEP program; instead, they will lead a pilot PrEP/TLC+ plan to target young, uninfected men of color who engage in high-risk activities.

These programs will provide information to young, high-risk individuals about sexually transmitted diseases, counseling for risk-reduction and sexually transmitted infection screenings. Every group is derived from high-risk communities in California, including Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach. Aside from being the largest prevention pill-based program in the United States, the project also represents the first use of the PrEP treatment in California.

Despite the project’s ambitious objectives, other initiatives with similar goals have not produced highly successful outcomes—a problem attributed to the failure of treated individuals to consistently take their medication. Those involved in the project, however, have noted that their study is much more broad and differs from previous studies in several important ways.

“This demonstration project provides a unique opportunity to rigorously evaluate the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of biomedical HIV prevention strategies that have shown efficacy for reducing HIV transmission but have not been tested more broadly in high-risk communities outside of the clinical trial setting,” stated Dr. Jennifer Sayles, medical director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, in an article by the UC Newsroom.

The project will entail numerous partnerships and will unite the country’s leading HIV/AIDS experts. In Los Angeles County, the Department of Public Health and UC Los Angeles will collaborate with AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center and the OASIS Clinic at the Charles Drew University.

Meanwhile, UC San Diego will work with the Long Beach Health and Human Services Agency, Los Angeles County-USC Rand Schrader Clinic and the San Diego HIV, STD and Hepatitis Branch. Northern California will have a role in the study through UC San Francisco (Center for AIDS Prevention Studies) and the East Bay AIDS Center at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland and Berkeley.

The study mainly targets men of color who have sex with other men (MSM) and lack resources for testing and counseling. This research aims to produce positive results by decreasing infection rates and providing medication to HIV-positive individuals.

“Young MSM of color in urban California are especially vulnerable to HIV, with annual rates of new infection comparable to those in sub-Saharan Africa…With CHRP’s support, we hope to implement and evaluate promising new interventions to stem the relentless surge of HIV through our community, potentially reducing its terrible toll on young lives and its costs to our health care system,” stated Dr. Jeffrey Burack of the East Bay Aids Center.