For the first time in China, people with HIV will be able to receive treatment in the form of a single pill.
Five months after receiving approval from the China Food and Drug Administration, British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on Saturday introduced its market-leading antiretroviral drug Triumeq, which contains three active ingredients in a single pill.
The drug is not yet widely available, as it was only just introduced to the Chinese market, Song Xinrong, a GSK spokeswoman, told Sixth Tone. “Once it has reached the entire market,” she said, “people with HIV will be able to access it in the same way they would other medications.”
A one-month prescription of Triumeq costs 2,880 yuan ($450), said Song, making it cheaper to obtain on the Chinese mainland than in any neighboring market, including Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan.
The new drug is a welcome addition in a country where the official number of people living with HIV has tripled over the last decade. According to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 746,644 people with HIV in the country in September 2017, compared with just 223,501 HIV-positive people in October 2007.
According to Song, Triumeq is already available in 50 international markets, with the United States being the first to approve the treatment in August 2014.
Since June 2016, China has provided free antiretroviral treatment to all citizens with HIV, according to a National Health and Family Planning Commission policy. Prior to that, only rural residents and poor urban residents were covered under the country’s 2006 HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment plan.
The free medication takes the form of cocktails containing multiple pills, each of which has its own set of instructions for consumption. Qi Tangkai, a doctor specializing in HIV at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center, told Sixth Tone in December that there were 15 different prescriptions for free HIV treatment available.
But compared with other countries, this isn’t a lot of options.
“Currently, China has a very limited number of antiretroviral drugs,” Lu Hongzhou, an HIV prevention expert from Fudan University in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone. “As the first all-in-one pill, Triumeq will bring considerable relief to Chinese people living with HIV.”
While low-cost and free antiretroviral treatments are a boon, HIV-positive status still carries a strong social stigma in China. In December 2016, a 27-year-old HIV-positive man in Guangzhou sued his former employer, a food inspection company, for putting him on indefinite leave — and eventually declining to renew his contract — after a routine workplace medical check revealed his status. And in April 2017, a Shanghai hospital refused to operate on a 10-year-old HIV-positive boy, despite being legally required to do so.