Brainstorm Health: HIV Prevention Pill, Pfizer Price Hikes, Chickenpox Outbreak

November 20, 2018, 9:12 PM UTC

Greetings, readers!

On Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the government body tasked with, well, recommending preventive health care services to stop diseases in their tracks, is officially recommending that doctors prescribe prophylactic medicine to patients they consider vulnerable to contracting HIV.

“The USPSTF recommends that clinicians offer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with effective antiretroviral therapy to persons who are at high risk of HIV acquisition,” said the agency in a draft recommendation.

“The evidence is clear: when taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV,” added Dr. Seth Landefeld of the USPSTF in a statement.

PrEP is a once-daily treatment regimen; biotech Gilead’s drug Truvada is the flagship treatment, and studies have found that daily Truvada use was more than 90% effective in preventing HIV infection in high risk populations such as men who have sex with men. The new government recommendation underscores that, despite that high rate of efficacy, there’s still a deluge of preventable HIV diagnoses every year (some 50,000 new infections per year, and that’s only for people who get tested, according to the Centers for Disease Control).

Beyond Truvada, the USPSTF also noted that another HIV treatment called tenofovir could also be an effective form of PrEP.

Read on for the day’s news.


'Mini brains' mimic premature babies. Nature reports that scientists have been able to grow miniature "brains" in petri dishes which mimic the electrical activity seen in the brains of prematurely born babies. The early stage research could give scientists a more nuanced glimpse into early brain development, especially given that collecting live biological material for such research is a complicated and risky process. (Nature)


Pfizer blows past drug price outrage, plans hikes anyways. Drug giant Pfizer is continuing its streak of paying little heed to public and political outrage over high drug prices. The Viagra maker is planning to hike the list prices of more than three dozen medicines in January, and the increases will range from 5% to 9% (significantly outpacing inflation). As has become the norm in these cases, Pfizer defended itself by pointing the finger at insurers and pharmacy benefits managers, blaming them for the high out of pocket costs borne by patients for prescription drugs.


Chicken pox outbreak linked to anti-vaccination camp in NC. 36 students at a single North Carolina high school have been diagnosed with chicken pox, and health officials are blaming the low rates of vaccination in the community. Just 42 of the 152 students at the school have reportedly received a chicken pox vaccine, and nearly 70% of kindergarten students in the district had religious exemptions for mandated immunizations. (NBC News)


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