NHS England is making available up to £2 million over the next two years to run a number of test sites looking at the role pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) could play in preventing HIV in those at the highest risk from the disease.

PrEP is a new way of using anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which are normally used for treating people with diagnosed HIV, to stop those at very highest risk from contracting the virus.

Recent evidence indicates that the approach can be highly effective in preventing transmission of the disease as long as the drugs are taken regularly; data from the pilot phase of the PROUD study show that PrEP using Truvada cut the incidence of HIV infection by 86 percent.

Research funded by Public Health England (PHE) calculated that offering pre-exposure prophylaxis alongside regular HIV testing and early treatment to just a quarter of MSM at high risk of contracting HIV could prevent around 7,400 new infections (44 percent of total incidence) by 2020.

NHS England said it is not responsible for commissioning HIV prevention services, but stressed its committment to working with local authorities, PHE, the Department of Health and other stakeholders to investigate the feasibility of making PrEP available for HIV prevention.

It is hoped that the new ‘early implementer test sites’ will help answer the remaining questions around how PrEP could be commissioned in the most cost effective and integrated way. The sites should provide protection to an additional 500 men at high risk of HIV infection, as well as inform future arrangements for the commissioning and provision of this innovative intervention.

NHS England noted that it is also keen to explore how a period of further support can be offered to the participants enrolled in the PROUD study.

As it stands, the decision on whether to fund PrEP lies with local trusts or health authorities.