Comparing adverse effects of nevirapine and efavirenz

Adverse events associated with nevirapine and efavirenz-based first-line antiretroviral therapy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Shubber Z, Calmy A, Andrieux-Meyer I, Vitoria M, Renaud-Thery F, Shaffer N, Hargreaves S, Mills EJ, Ford N. AIDS. 2013 Jan 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Since 2002, the World Health Organization has recommended either nevirapine (NVP) or efavirenz (EFV) as part of first-line antiretroviral therapy. These two drugs are known to have differing toxicity profiles, but the clinical importance of these toxicities overall is not well established. The authors systematically reviewed adverse events among treatment-naïve HIV-positive adults and children receiving either NVP or EFV as part of first-line antiretroviral therapy. The primary outcome was drug discontinuation as a result of any adverse event; specific toxicities were evaluated as secondary outcomes. Point estimates and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated and proportions and odds ratios (OR) pooled using fixed-effects meta-analysis. Data was reviewed on 26446 adult and 3975 children from 8 randomized trials and 26 prospective cohorts. Overall, adults on NVP were more than two times more likely to discontinue treatment due to any adverse event compared to patients on EFV (OR 2.2, 95%CI 1.9-2.6). Severe hepatotoxicity (OR 3.3, 95%CI 2.5-4.2), severe skin toxicity (OR 3.9, 95%CI 2.5-5.4), and severe hypersensitivity reactions (OR 2.4, 95%CI 1.9-2.9) were more likely to occur among patients on NVP. Patients receiving EFV were more likely to experience severe CNS-events (OR 3.4, 95%CI 2.1-5.4). Similar associations were seen in children. Compared to NVP, EFV is associated with a lower frequency of severe adverse events, in particular treatment discontinuations. This finding supports a move towards efavirenz-based therapy as the preferred first-line treatment regimen for HIV treatment within a public health approach.

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Editor’s notes: As increased progress is being made towards universal access to treatment, increased attention is being addressed towards retention in care and on treatment. Simpler, less toxic regimens have been a cornerstone of the Treatment 2.0 initiative of UNAIDS and WHO. Nevirapine has been widely utilized as an essential component of three drug antiretroviral therapy, in part due to low cost and safety at a population level. While efavirenz does have a greater incidence of central nervous system side effects (many of them manageable with supportive treatment), the overall discontinuation rate is significantly lower than with nevirapine. This data in combination with the continued reduction in efavirenz price, and incorporation into combination pill form, supports the move towards increased use of efavirenz for first line antiretroviral therapy.

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