The FDA has approved a new HIV medication called Descovy, which contains a lower dose of tenofovir than other common antiretroviral drugs. This lower dosage helps reduce the risk of kidney failure and bone density-related side effects. With an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the US alone, this new therapy provides a safer and more effective alternative to older antiviral treatments that inhibit the virus from multiplying in the body.
Prior to the approval of Descovy, the HIV antiviral tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) was used at a much higher dosage in many therapies. However, research indicates that taking high doses of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate for extended periods of time can cause kidney failure and bone density loss in some patients with other health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. Descovy uses a lower dose of tenofovir, tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), which is just as effective as tenofovir disoproxil fumarate at inhibiting the HIV-1 virus, but reduces the risk for serious side effects.
The Descovy Difference
Prescription Descovy is a new fixed-dose combination HIV treatment that contains active ingredients emtricitabine and tenofovir alafenamide (TAF). In older similar HIV drugs like Viread, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate was used at a much higher dose to help prevent healthy cells from becoming infected. However, one of the biggest drawbacks of high dose tenofovir is that patients with HIV are more likely to experience serious renal impairment and bone destiny loss. The new formulation in Descovy, tenofovir alafenamide, is a prodrug that is activated once the body metabolizes the compound. In essence, the biggest breakthrough of Descovy is that it uses one tenth of the older tenofovir formulation to reduce the risk for kidney failure and bone density loss.
The new formulation of Descovy combines 200 mg of emtricitabine and 25 mg of tenofovir alafenamide, and is available in a single dose tablet. Descovy is not a complete HIV treatment, and it must be supplemented with other medications to suppress the virus. One of the important breakthroughs of Descovy is that it can be used on newly diagnosed HIV patients or those who have no resistance to tenofovir alafenamide.
While Descovy reduces the risk for kidney failure and bone density loss, there are still serious side effects associated with this HIV treatment. The most common side effects observed during Descovy clinical trials included nausea and vomiting. However, some patients taking Descovy are also at risk for developing a buildup of lactic acid in the blood or lactic acidosis, which can cause symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, trouble breathing, feeling dizzy, and fast or irregular heartbeat. Lactic acidosis must be treated in a hospital setting, and it can lead to death in some cases.
As with any medication, you should talk about the risks and benefits with your doctor and review your medical history so that your healthcare provider can decide if this new HIV treatment option is safe for you.