Getting the daily pill, which is estimated to reduce infection among high-risk people by more than 90%, is no easy task. It can take several months for someone who wants PrEP to actually receive the drug. Nurx's new service is designed to shrink that waiting period to just a few days.
Last month, Nurx raised $36 million (give-and-take R522 million) with help from top Silicon Valley venture capital firms. It also added Chelsea Clinton to its board of advisers.
There are a handful of startups offering quick on-demand delivery of prescription medications. But this is the first time one of these companies has tackled at-home lab testing — the hardest part of getting access to PrEP.
“This is a game-changing step towards preventing the spread of HIV,” Hans Gangeskar, co-founder and CEO of Nurx, told Business Insider. “It takes away a key barrier to treatment, and so we really hope to reach the folks that great places like community clinics are still missing."
Currently, access to PrEP is limited. Beyond simply requiring access to a health care provider, getting a prescription also requires patients visit a clinic, ask about PrEP (which can be a scary conversation for many), and hope the provider can prescribe the drug. Oftentimes, patients are referred to infectious disease specialists who require several visits and extensive testing.
“There's a big drop off in potential PrEP users at the stage when they need to physically show up for lab testing,” Jessica Horwitz, Nurx’s head of clinical development, said. “Getting in the door in the first place is often the hardest part. We're missing whole swaths of people who need access."
To get PrEP, patients first visit the Nurx website and fill out an assessment with a healthcare provider in the startup's network to figure out if the drug is a good idea.
Over 1.2 million people in the US have HIV, and men who have sex with men are at the highest risk. Heterosexual men and women who have unprotected sex or use injectable drugs are also at risk.
Then, patients get a testing kit from Nurx in the mail. In a process that's somewhat similar to at-home genetics testing services like Ancestry or 23andMe, patients collect personal samples and mail them back to Nurx’s certified lab partner for processing. Instead of simply taking a spit sample, the Nurx kit requires patients to also send along small samples of blood and urine. This is done to make sure patients aren't HIV positive and to ensure their kidneys are functioning properly, both of which are requirements for the drug.
Once those steps are complete, patients get PrEP delivered straight to their door — all without ever stepping foot in a physical clinic.
The no-visit-required model for prescription drug delivery is a big trend across the US right now.
In June, Amazon inaugurated its latest push into the healthcare industry by buying online pharmacy PillPack.
Just days earlier, pharmacy giant CVS Health announced a plan to deliver prescriptions from nearly 10,000 of its retail stores to customer homes by contracting with the US Postal Service. And a handful of startups like Nimble and Capsule currently provide similar services with independent pharmacies using courier delivery services.
Although Nurx currently dispenses only birth control and PrEP, Horwitz told Business Insider there are plans to expand to other medications.
"PrEP was the next logical step for us because it can be done seamlessly through telemedicine, but our balance in terms of growth is finding clinical areas where there's need and where access is an issue," Horwitz said.
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