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Researchers at UNSW’s Kirby Institute will lead a landmark clinical trial designed to reduce new HIV infections by half within two years and to 'virtually eliminate' HIV transmission in NSW by 2020.

The EPIC trial, announced today by the NSW Minister for Health Jillian Skinner, will see HIV negative people based in NSW and at high risk of HIV infection given a daily dose of medication. This strategy is known as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, and is currently being used as a component of standard HIV treatment in Australia. A growing number of international clinical trials have established PrEP to be highly effective at preventing HIV infection among high-risk people.

A total of 3,700 high-risk mostly gay and bisexual men will be enrolled through the state-wide network of public sexual health clinics, potentially preventing almost 150 new HIV infections over a one-year period.

NSW will become the first state in Australia to implement such a rapid and large-scale trial of the HIV prevention strategy.

Professor David Cooper, Director of the Kirby Institute and principal investigator on the trial, said the trial presents an exciting opportunity to dramatically reduce HIV diagnoses in NSW.

“Rapid enrolment, high coverage and precision targeting are crucial to the success of this trial and if done properly, it will bring about the rapid reduction of HIV transmission in NSW, and the virtual elimination new HIV infections by 2020,” Professor Cooper said.

“NSW Health has committed crucial resources and drawn together key partners. I’m excited to be working with ACON, Positive Life NSW and the Australasian Society for HIV, viral hepatitis and sexual health medicine. It is this partnership approach that is the principal strength of this trial.”

This announcement comes amid growing calls from gay and bisexual communities to increase access to PrEP in Australia. Currently people outside of clinical trials who want to access the drug need to import it using the TGA-approved personal importation scheme.

Professor Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention program at the Kirby Institute, said PrEP is a game-changing, biomedical strategy for gay and bisexual men to protect themselves from the risk of HIV infection.

"But PrEP does not protect against other STIs, so it is still important to use condoms and to have regular screening for STIs," Professor Grulich said.

EPIC-NSW brings together leaders from research, community, industry and public health sectors and if successful, will pave the way for the widespread use of PrEP. Drug supply for the trial is partially provided by Gilead Sciences. 

Recruitment is expected to commence in the lead up to Mardi Gras 2016. Read more about the trial here