Articles tagged as "Ireland"

H*V – can we do better for HIV, HBV and HCV if we all work together?

Editor’s notes: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) signal a major shift in the way that the United Nations and her development partners aim to shape the next decades.  Whereas the Millennium Development Goals reinforced specific programmes for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the SDGs call for a more integrated approach to health and well-being and encourage integration and synergy wherever it makes sense.  Hepatitis is one obvious area in which better collaboration and coordination could yield benefits.  Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) viruses are both more common in some of the populations most affected by HIV.  HCV can now be cured with drugs that derive directly from the HIV portfolio, while some ARVs have a direct effect on HBV.

Rwanda is one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to set up a control programme for viral hepatitis, building on the infrastructure established for HIV. Umutesi and colleagues report on results of screening almost 120 000 people living with HIV who entered care for markers of HBV and HCV.  Around 5000 people (4.3%) were identified with a positive Hepatitis B surface antigen and a similar number (4.6%) were found to have antibodies against HCV.  There was marked variation geographically with a range by district from 2%-11% for HBV, higher in more urban areas and in men.  For HCV the range was from 3%-8% and was higher in more rural areas, and also in men.  This study provides a good platform to estimate numbers of people who might need treatment and to plan the next steps in an integrated programme.

People who inject drugs are particularly severely affected by HCV, and so co-infection with both HIV and HCV is common in areas where both viruses circulate.  Some estimates from Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam suggest that more than 40% of people who inject drugs are living with HIV and that essentially all of these people are also co-infected with HCV.  Birger R and colleagues developed a mathematical model to explore the likely impact of interventions aimed at HIV, HCV or broad harm reduction [with methadone maintenance treatment (MMT)] on future mortality and incidence of both infections.  While ART scale up reduces HIV incidence and mortality, it has no effect on HCV.  MMT is effective at reducing incidence of both HIV and HCV (and has morbidity and mortality benefits beyond these viruses).  However, MMT does not help the many people already living with HCV and so has little effect on HCV related mortality. So the model is clear that treatment for HCV needs to be an important part of a combined programme and that we urgently need to find ways to reduce the price of directly acting antivirals if we are to save more Vietnamese lives.

Haldane and colleagues have also focused on this intersection between HIV and substance use services.  They carried out a systematic review to understand the models and implications of integration of service delivery.  The authors expand their typology of integration models considering the point of entry of the client, and the degree to which services are co-located and delivered.  Integration can be considered as “clinical”, “service” or “systems”.  The first two can operate at the micro or meso level meaning that individual staff can deal with both situations, or that staff are trained to provide appropriate referrals.  Systems level integration operates at a macro level and implies that programmes for each service make collaborations and coordinate in ways that may affect staffing, funding and fragmentation of services. Although there are theoretical advantages to coordination and integration (as shown by the mathematical model above), there are few good empirical studies of integrated service delivery reported outside the USA.  The authors considered that most of the intervention studies had a risk of bias in the interpretation of their impact, although all demonstrated positive changes in outcomes.  Furthermore, almost all the studies focussed on integration at the clinic or individual provider level (meso or micro) rather than addressing the larger systemic challenges that we need to consider.  If we are to achieve the ideals laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, we will need to overcome some of these systemic challenges, particularly for populations that are criminalized and marginalized by many of the public services.

Prevalence of hepatitis B and C infection in persons living with HIV enrolled in care in Rwanda.

Umutesi J, Simmons B, Makuza JD, Dushimiyimana D, Mbituyumuremyi A, Uwimana JM, Ford N, Mills EJ, Nsanzimana S. BMC Infect Dis. 2017 May 2;17(1):315. doi: 10.1186/s12879-017-2422-9.

Background: Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV) are important causes of morbidity and mortality in people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The burden of these co-infections in sub-Saharan Africa is still unclear. We estimated the prevalence of the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis C antibody (HCVAb) among HIV-infected individuals in Rwanda and identified factors associated with infection.

Methods: Between January 2016 and June 2016, we performed systematic screening for HBsAg and HCVAb among HIV-positive individuals enrolled at public and private HIV facilities across Rwanda. Results were analyzed to determine marker prevalence and variability by demographic factors.

Results: Overall, among 117 258 individuals tested, the prevalence of HBsAg and HCVAb was 4.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] (4.2-4.4) and 4.6% (95% CI 4.5-4.7) respectively; 182 (0.2%) HIV+ individuals were co-infected with HBsAg and HCVAb. Prevalence was higher in males (HBsAg, 5.4% [5.1-5.6] vs. 3.7% [3.5-3.8]; HCVAb, 5.0% [4.8-5.2] vs. 4.4% [4.3-4.6]) and increased with age; HCVAb prevalence was significantly higher in people aged ≥65 years (17.8% [16.4-19.2]). Prevalence varied geographically.

Conclusion: HBV and HCV co-infections are common among HIV-infected individuals in Rwanda. It is important that viral hepatitis prevention and treatment activities are scaled-up to control further transmission and reduce the burden in this population. Particular efforts should be made to conduct targeted screening of males and the older population. Further assessment is required to determine rates of HBV and HCV chronicity among HIV-infected individuals and identify effective strategies to link individuals to care and treatment.

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The impact of HCV therapy in a high HIV-HCV prevalence population: A modeling study on people who inject drugs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Birger RB, Le T, Kouyos RD, Grenfell BT, Hallett TB. PLoS One. 2017 May 11;12(5):e0177195. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177195. eCollection 2017.

Background: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) coinfection is a major global health problem especially among people who inject drugs (PWID), with significant clinical implications. Mathematical models have been used to great effect to shape HIV care, but few have been proposed for HIV/HCV.

Methods: We constructed a deterministic compartmental ODE model that incorporated layers for HIV disease progression, HCV disease progression and PWID demography. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) and Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) scale-ups were modeled as from 2016 and projected forward 10 years. HCV treatment roll-out was modeled beginning in 2026, after a variety of MMT scale-up scenarios, and projected forward 10 years.

Results: Our results indicate that scale-up of ART has a major impact on HIV though not on HCV burden. MMT scale-up has an impact on incidence of both infections. HCV treatment roll-out has a measurable impact on reductions of deaths, increasing multifold the mortality reductions afforded by just ART/MMT scale-ups.

Conclusion: HCV treatment roll-out can have major and long-lasting effects on averting PWID deaths on top of those averted by ART/MMT scale-up. Efficient intervention scale-up of HCV alongside HIV interventions is critical in Vietnam.

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Integrating HIV and substance use services: a systematic review

Haldane V, Cervero-Liceras F, Chuah FL, Ong SE, Murphy G, Sigfrid L, Watt N, Balabanova D, Hogarth S, Maimaris W, Buse K, Piot P, McKee M, Perel P, Legido-Quigley H. Journal of the International AIDS Society. 2017 May 30;20(1).http://dx.doi.org/10.7448/IAS.20.1.21585.

Introduction: Substance use is an important risk factor for HIV, with both concentrated in certain vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although their management differs, there may be opportunities to integrate services for substance use and HIV. In this paper we systematically review evidence from studies that sought to integrate care for people living with HIV and substance use problems.

Methods: Studies were included if they evaluated service integration for substance use and HIV. We searched multiple databases from inception until October 2015. Articles were screened independently by two reviewers and assessed for risk of bias.

Results and discussion: 11 057 records were identified, with 7616 after removal of duplicates. After screening titles and abstracts, 51 met the inclusion criteria. Integration models were categorized by location (HIV, substance use and other facilities), level of integration from micro (integrated care delivered to individuals) to macro (system level integrations) and degree of integration from least (screening and counselling only) to most (care for HIV, substance use and/or other illnesses at the same facility). Most reported descriptive or cohort studies; in four randomized control trials integrated activities improved patient outcomes. There is potential for integrating services at all facility types, including mobile health services. While services offering screening only can achieve synergies, there are benefits from delivering integrated treatment for HIV and substance use, including ease of referral to other mental health and social services.

Conclusions: Our review used a wide range of databases and conference archives to increase representation of papers from low- and middle-income countries. Limitations include the overrepresentation of studies from the United States, and the descriptive nature of the majority of papers. The evidence reviewed shows that greater integration offers important benefits in both patient and service outcomes but further research and outcome reporting is needed to better understand innovative and holistic care models at the complex intersection of substance use and HIV services.

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Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America
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How do we know which activities make a difference to HIV prevention?

Editor’s notes: In order to be fairly certain that an intervention is responsible for changes in HIV or HIV-related behaviours, the gold standard is randomization. This allows for fair comparisons between groups, since factors that might alter the outcomes will be more or less equally balanced between the study groups.  This is true whether such confounding factors are expected, but also importantly, even those factors that are unknown, unexpected and unmeasured will also be balanced between the arms. 

A second key determinant of high quality research is to use an approach that maximizes full engagement and follow-up of participants in the study.  One such approach that is widely recognized is to use Good Participatory Practice.  

Rhodes and colleagues study condom promotion and HIV testing among the Hispanic/Latino community of gay men and other men who have sex with men in North Carolina, USA.  Although gay men and other men who have sex with men represent approximately 4% of the adult male population in the United States of America, they account for more than 80% of new HIV infections among men.  Around one quarter of gay men and other men who have sex with men are Hispanic or Latino.  The authors therefore wanted to use research to make a difference to the HIV burden of the Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men community in North Carolina, USA.  They found that despite the impact of HIV on Hispanic/ Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men, they were only able to identify one evidence-based behavioural HIV prevention programme focussed on this population.

The authors used an extensive community based participatory research partnership, whose members represented the Hispanic/ Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men community, AIDS service organizations, Hispanic/Latino-serving community organizations, and universities to develop, implement, and evaluate a Spanish-language, small group intervention designed to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men (HOLA en Grupos).

304 participants were randomly allocated to the HOLA en Grupos intervention, or to a general health education comparison intervention having the same number of sessions (4) and duration (16 hours in total) that focussed on prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers; diabetes; high cholesterol; cardiovascular disease; and alcohol misuse. These topics for the control group were identified on the basis of identified needs and priorities of Hispanic/Latino gay men and other men who have sex with men.

HOLA en Grupos is grounded on social cognitive theory, empowerment education, and traditional Hispanic/Latino cultural values and includes four interactive modules of four hours each delivered in groups.  Participants in both intervention and control arms received reimbursement for their time, certificates of completion and meals and a celebration at the completion of the course.  In other words this was an intensive intervention that might be hard to replicate in most settings, but it follows very high standards both for developing and conducting the research and also for determining the impact of the intervention.

The intervention was associated with a large effect on both condom usage (four-fold higher in the intervention arm than the control) and HIV test uptake (an astonishing 14-fold higher, reflecting the relatively low testing rate in the control group).

A major limitation in many HIV prevention studies, including this one, is that the outcome is based on reported behaviour.  The challenge is that the real outcome of interest, which is new HIV infections, is relatively rare in almost all communities so that studies have to be huge and expensive, and the large majority of participants in both intervention and control arms do not in fact acquire HIV.  This is in contrast to most studies of treatment, where there are clearly defined biological, standardized measures which many or all participants are likely to reach.  Nonetheless, there are many examples of studies that find changes in reported behaviour that are not associated with biological markers of such change (such as incidence of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy). 

There are also many observational or ecological studies that report changes in new HIV infections but that cannot truly say why the number of infections fell and whether the interventions used in the study were responsible for the changes.  For example Nwokolo and colleagues report in a short research letter on the dramatic decline in new HIV diagnoses in the large London clinic where they work.  New infections in that clinic, and in fact in other large clinics in London, have dropped by a remarkable 40% from 2015 to 2016, as originally reported in the popular science press before any scientific publication or presentation. The authors of the research letter are suitably cautious about how to account for the impressive decline.  Various systems have been improved over the past few years in this clinic to make it easier to have an HIV test and start treatment immediately.  However, most of the clinic team (and many other commentators) assume that it is also due to the rapid rise in the use of PrEP.  Although it is still not available through the UK National Health Service, the clinic has been at the forefront of encouraging gay men and other men who have sex with men who might benefit from PrEP to purchase it from on-line pharmacies.  The clinic then provides the appropriate monitoring and follow up to ensure that their clients get the best possible PrEP service given the current constraints.  Whatever the cause, we should be celebrating the rapid fall in new HIV infections across London, which is home to a substantial proportion of the new HIV infections in the UK.

The challenges of demonstrating evidence of effectiveness for HIV prevention is also felt among black women in the USA.  Although they have the highest burden of HIV among women in the USA, the incidence rates are such that a traditional randomized trial design would need to be huge, and consequently hugely expensive.  Adimora and colleagues consider whether an alternative trial design might be to use data from high HIV incidence settings and then to develop proxies of protection, such as the concentration of a PrEP medicine to infer whether black women are protected.  An alternative that has been proposed for men who have sex with men would be to look for other markers of high risk, such as sexually transmitted infections, reported partners, age, and substance use and estimate the likely risk of HIV acquisition in the absence of PrEP from these parameters.  Then the observed incidence could be compared to this modelled counterfactual, much as was done in the open label extension of the Partners PrEP study in Kenyan and Ugandan sero-different couples.  However, translating risk factors for infection across populations, and even continents when there is such heterogeneity in risk of infection is not at all straightforward.  So there is still plenty to think about and no clear answers yet!

A useful addition to the tool box for designing studies and assessing the effectiveness of interventions, would be better tools for measuring recent infection.  There are several assays all with differing characteristics but increasingly these differences and how they interact with different clades of HIV are becoming clear.  Key determinants for each assay are the mean duration of recent infection (MDRI) estimate (which does seem to vary by clade) and the false recency rate (FRR) which needs to be less than 2% to be considered useful.  Hargrove and colleagues used three different assays to test samples from 101 women who seroconverted during the ZVITAMBO trial.  The MDRI measured using standard cut-off points, were considerably shorter than those published for the general population.  The authors point out that changes in antibody properties among women who have recently given birth or other unspecified physiological states, mean that incidence assays may give different results from those published and expected.  Yet more caution when comparing incidence estimates between studies.  As an endpoint in a comparison between two groups in the same population, the assays are still attractive. Although, given typical MDRIs of around six to nine months, these assays will still need to be embedded in very large samples to give reliable estimates of incidence and statistically significant differences between groups.

This month saw the production of a useful supplement on many aspects of how data from different sources, including incidence assays are used to inform the sophisticated models on which so much HIV planning, programming and financing is based.  An example is Mahiane and colleagues’ paper on the development of a new tool to fit existing programme data into the spectrum suite of models in order to estimate incidence.

Finally in this section, for those who are keen on laboratory studies, Richardson-Harman and colleagues describe the current state of ex-vivo challenge models for assessing potential candidates as microbicides.  In these models, biopsies of rectal, cervical or vaginal tissue, taken during other procedures, or from volunteers, are kept alive in the laboratory.  The tissues can then be challenged with HIV in the presence or absence of potential microbicide products.  The current model works best for rectal tissues, in which infection occurs promptly and consistently, so that the effect of a microbicide can clearly be seen by a reduction in the production of HIV p24 antigen.  However, for cervical and vaginal tissues, the infection (in the absence of any microbicide) was less consistent, slower and lasted longer making it less easy to determine statistical differences between those tissues with microbicide and those without.  Further work of this sort may help to streamline the choice of microbicide or PrEP products that can most sensibly be taken out of the laboratory and into the (almost) real world of clinical trials.

Small-group randomized controlled trial to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Rhodes SD, Alonzo J, Mann L, Song EY, Tanner AE, Arellano JE, Rodriguez-Celedon R, Garcia M, Freeman A, Reboussin BA, Painter TM. Am J Public Health. 2017 Jun;107(6):969-976. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303814. Epub 2017 Apr 20.

Objectives: To evaluate the HOLA en Grupos intervention, a Spanish-language small-group behavioral HIV prevention intervention designed to increase condom use and HIV testing among Hispanic/Latino gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.

Methods: In 2012 to 2015, we recruited and randomized 304 Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men, aged 18 to 55 years in North Carolina, to the 4-session HOLA en Grupos intervention or an attention-equivalent general health education comparison intervention. Participants completed structured assessments at baseline and 6-month follow-up. Follow-up retention was 100%.

Results: At follow-up, relative to comparison participants, HOLA en Grupos participants reported increased consistent condom use during the past 3 months (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 4.1; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.2, 7.9; P < .001) and HIV testing during the past 6 months (AOR = 13.8; 95% CI = 7.6, 25.3; P < .001). HOLA en Grupos participants also reported increased knowledge of HIV (P < .001) and sexually transmitted infections (P < .001); condom use skills (P < .001), self-efficacy (P < .001), expectancies (P < .001), and intentions (P < .001); sexual communication skills (P < .01); and decreased fatalism (P < .001).

Conclusions: The HOLA en Grupos intervention is efficacious for reducing HIV risk behaviors among Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men.

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Not just PrEP: other reasons for London's HIV decline.

Nwokolo N, Whitlock G, McOwan A. Lancet HIV. 2017 Apr;4(4):e153. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30044-9.

The reduction in HIV diagnoses in London in 2016 is attributed to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). We believe that the causes of the 42% decline seen at our clinic are likely to be multifactorial. 56 Dean Street diagnoses one in four of London's HIV cases, 50% of whom have incident infection (ie, within 4 months of infection). Because of this, and following the results of the START study, we actively recommend treatment at, or close to, diagnosis, reducing the risk of transmission in people who would otherwise be highly infectious.

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US black women and HIV prevention: time for new approaches to clinical trials.

Adimora AA, Cole SR, Eron JJ Clin Infect Dis. 2017 Apr 5. doi: 10.1093/cid/cix313. [Epub ahead of print]. 

Black women bear the highest burden of HIV infection among US women. Tenofovir/ emtricitabine HIV prevention trials among women in Africa have yielded varying results. Ideally, a randomized controlled trial (RCT) among US women would provide data for guidelines for US women's HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis use. However, even among US black women at high risk for HIV infection, sample size requirements for an RCT with HIV incidence as its outcome are prohibitively high. We propose to circumvent this large sample size requirement by evaluating relationships between HIV incidence and drug concentrations measured among participants in traditional phase 3 trials in high incidence settings - and then applying these observations to drug concentrations measured among at risk individuals in lower incidence settings, such as US black women. This strategy could strengthen the evidence base to enable black women to fully benefit from prevention research advances and decrease racial disparities in HIV rates.

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Heightened HIV antibody responses in postpartum women as exemplified by recent infection assays: implications for incidence estimates.

Hargrove JW, van Schalkwyk C, Humphrey JH, Mutasa K, Ntozini R, Owen SM, Masciotra S, Parekh BS, Duong YT, Dobbs T, Kilmarx PH, Gonese E. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 May 24. doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0319. [Epub ahead of print].

Laboratory assays that identify recent HIV infections are important for assessing impacts of interventions aimed at reducing HIV incidence. Kinetics of HIV humoral responses can vary with inherent assay properties, and between HIV subtypes, populations, and physiological states. They are important in determining mean duration of recent infection (MDRI) for antibody-based assays for detecting recent HIV infections. We determined MDRIs for multi-subtype peptide representing subtypes B, E and D (BED)-capture enzyme immunoassay, limiting antigen (LAg), and Bio-Rad Avidity Incidence (BRAI) assays for 101 seroconverting postpartum women, recruited in Harare from 1997 to 2000 during the Zimbabwe Vitamin A for Mothers and Babies trial, comparing them against published MDRIs estimated from seroconverting cases in the general population. We also compared MDRIs for women who seroconverted either during the first 9 months, or at later stages, postpartum. At cutoffs (C) of 0.8 for BED, 1.5 for LAg, and 40% for BRAI, estimated MDRIs for postpartum mothers were 192, 104, and 144 days, 33%, 32%, and 52% lower than published estimates of 287, 152 and 298 days, respectively, for clade C samples from general populations. Point estimates of MDRI values were 7%-19% shorter for women who seroconverted in the first 9 months postpartum than for those seroconverting later. MDRI values for three HIV incidence biomarkers are longer in the general population than among postpartum women, particularly those who recently gave birth, consistent with heightened immunological activation soon after birth. Our results provide a caution that MDRI may vary significantly between subjects in different physiological states.

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Improvements in Spectrum's fit to program data tool.

Mahiane SG, Marsh K, Grantham K, Crichlow S, Caceres K, Stover J.  AIDS. 2017 Apr;31 Suppl 1:S23-S30. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001359.

Objective: The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS-supported Spectrum software package (Glastonbury, Connecticut, USA) is used by most countries worldwide to monitor the HIV epidemic. In Spectrum, HIV incidence trends among adults (aged 15-49 years) are derived by either fitting to seroprevalence surveillance and survey data or generating curves consistent with program and vital registration data, such as historical trends in the number of newly diagnosed infections or people living with HIV and AIDS related deaths. This article describes development and application of the fit to program data (FPD) tool in Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS' 2016 estimates round.

Methods: In the FPD tool, HIV incidence trends are described as a simple or double logistic function. Function parameters are estimated from historical program data on newly reported HIV cases, people living with HIV or AIDS-related deaths. Inputs can be adjusted for proportions undiagnosed or misclassified deaths. Maximum likelihood estimation or minimum chi-squared distance methods are used to identify the best fitting curve. Asymptotic properties of the estimators from these fits are used to estimate uncertainty.

Results: The FPD tool was used to fit incidence for 62 countries in 2016. Maximum likelihood and minimum chi-squared distance methods gave similar results. A double logistic curve adequately described observed trends in all but four countries where a simple logistic curve performed better.

Conclusion: Robust HIV-related program and vital registration data are routinely available in many middle-income and high-income countries, whereas HIV seroprevalence surveillance and survey data may be scarce. In these countries, the FPD tool offers a simpler, improved approach to estimating HIV incidence trends.

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Analytical advances in the ex vivo challenge efficacy assay.

Richardson-Harman N, Parody R, Anton P, McGowan I, Doncel G, Thurman AR, Herrera C, Kordy K, Fox J, Tanner K, Swartz G, Dezzutti CS. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2017 Apr;33(4):395-403. doi: 10.1089/AID.2016.0073. Epub 2016 Dec 16.

The ex vivo challenge assay is being increasingly used as an efficacy endpoint during early human clinical trials of HIV prevention treatments. There is no standard methodology for the ex vivo challenge assay, although the use of different data collection methods and analytical parameters may impact results and reduce the comparability of findings between trials. In this analysis, we describe the impact of data imputation methods, kit type, testing schedule and tissue type on variability, statistical power, and ex vivo HIV growth kinetics. Data were p24 antigen (pg/ml) measurements collected from clinical trials of candidate microbicides where rectal (n = 502), cervical (n = 88), and vaginal (n = 110) tissues were challenged with HIV-1BaL ex vivo. Imputation of missing data using a nonlinear mixed effect model was found to provide an improved fit compared to imputation using half the limit of detection. The rectal virus growth period was found to be earlier and of a relatively shorter duration than the growth period for cervical and vaginal tissue types. On average, only four rectal tissue challenge assays in each treatment and control group would be needed to find a one log difference in p24 to be significant (alpha = 0.05), but a larger sample size was predicted to be needed for either cervical (n = 21) or vaginal (n = 10) tissue comparisons. Overall, the results indicated that improvements could be made in the design and analysis of the ex vivo challenge assay to provide a more standardized and powerful assay to compare efficacy of microbicide products.

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Non-communicable diseases and co-morbidities – the flip side of successful ART programmes?

Editor’s notes: As the population of people living with HIV grows older and lives longer, the importance of non-communicable diseases is increasing.  Several studies this month explored various aspects of this intersection.

An encouraging study from Spain by Sorigué M et al., analysed the outcomes of patients with advanced stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a relatively common cancer both among people living with HIV and the HIV-negative population. The authors showed that, in the era of combined antiretroviral therapy, the complete response rate and ten year survival were not significantly different among people living with HIV (89% and 73%) and HIV negative people (91% and 68%).

Another broadly encouraging study from Ireland by Tinago W et al., followed up 384 people (176 living with HIV) to determine changes over three years in their bone mineral density (BMD).  BMD was somewhat lower in the people living with HIV, despite the group being younger on average.  As expected, BMD gradually fell with increasing age but the rate of bone loss was no different between people living with HIV and HIV negative people.  88% of the people living with HIV were on ART at the start of the study period.  Not having started ART among people living with HIV was associated with lower BMD and people who had started more recently showed the largest declines in BMD.  This suggests (as has previously been shown in cohorts of people living with HIV) that after an initial loss in BMD, the rate of loss stabilizes and is similar to HIV-negative people.  Interestingly, the authors did not show that overall exposure to tenofovir disproxil fumarate (TDF) was particularly associated with greater BMD loss over the course of follow up, despite several previous randomized trials confirming that TDF does cause BMD loss when it is started.

While on the subject of TDF, this month saw two important regulatory trials of tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), sponsored by the manufacturers Gilead Sciences.  630 people living with HIV on treatment with rilpivirine, emtricitabine and TDF whose viral load was supressed, were randomly allocated to remain on the same regimen or to swap the TDF for TAF.  TAF is a pro-drug, that reduces the plasma concentrations of tenofovir and is therefore expected to reduce the renal and bone toxicities associated with TDF while still delivering active drug to the cells where it is needed.  One year later, viral suppression was very similar in the two groups (94%).  There was also no significant difference seen in the side effects over this one year period, with no serious adverse events and 6% vs. 12% having some side effects in the TAF and TDF arms respectively [Orkin C and colleagues].

A related study by DeJesus E et al. with the same design was conducted among people taking efavirenz, emtricitabine and tenofovir, one of the most common first line regimens throughout the world. In this trial the efavirenz was switched to rilpivirine and the TDF to TAF.  875 people living with HIV whose viral load was supressed were randomized and after one year viral suppression was very similar in the two groups (90-92%).  There was also no significant difference seen in the side effects over this one year period, with no serious adverse events and 13% vs. 10% having some side effects in the rilpivirine -TAF and efavirenz-TDF arms respectively.

Returning to co-morbidities and non-communicable diseases, a study by Rodríguez-Arbolí E and colleagues in rural Tanzania has shown that 11.6% of people living with HIV who had not yet started ART had raised blood pressure.  A further 9.6% develop raised blood pressure during follow up, an incidence of 12 per 100 person years. The risk factors for developing hypertension were those well recognized in HIV-negative populations (age, renal disease and being overweight) and not specifically related to HIV infection, ART or immunological status.  The authors recommend integration of non-communicable disease screening and management into HIV care clinics but a larger conclusion might be to improve management of hypertension more generally, as it affects both people living with HIV and people without.

In contrast, a study by Pollack TM et al. from Viet Nam shows that smoking tobacco is associated with a higher viral load among people living with HIV presenting for ART.  As would be expected, other predictors of more advanced HIV disease such as lower CD4 counts and lower BMI and prior TB were all associated with a higher viral load at presentation.  Male sex was also significantly associated with a higher viral load.  The authors point out various other studies from Cameroon and the US that have shown similar and related interactions between smoking tobacco, viral load at presentation or viral load suppression or rebound on ART treatment.  Other studies in the US have not found this association.  One of the challenges is to separate behavioural factors that might be confounders – perhaps people who smoke are more likely to present late.  In this study there was not a clear dose response.  People who smoked more than ten cigarettes per day were actually somewhat less likely in this sample to have a higher viral load than people who smoked 1-10 cigarettes per day, but the numbers were too small to make statistically significant claims.  The authors suggest that oxidative stress and induction of the cytochrome P450 (CYP) pathway could explain the mechanism of smoking-related increased VL among HIV positive individuals.  While the study cannot prove cause and effect, there are already many reasons to promote tobacco cessation among people living with HIV and this may be an additional one.

The D:A:D study is a major prospective cohort that follows more than 49 000 people living with HIV in Europe, Australia and the USA.  Among the cohort, more than 4000 have developed chronic renal impairment.  A study by Ryom L et al. this month examined whether there was improvement, stabilisation or progression of renal impairment in the 2006 individuals who had additional measurements 2-3 years after renal impairment was first noted and explored risk factors for each.  On the one hand, they show that some ARVs (notably TDF and ritonavir-boosted atazanovir) are associated with worse renal outcomes, but on the other hand, they demonstrate that after stopping these nephrotoxic medicines, the kidneys recover or at least do not deteriorate further.  Once again, traditional risk factors (older age, high blood pressure and diabetes) are also important risk factors for the kidneys of people living with HIV.  As the population of people living with HIV gets older and lives longer, HIV care and traditional non-communicable disease management must overlap and coordinate.

HIV-infection has no prognostic impact on advanced-stage Hodgkin lymphoma treated with doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine.

Sorigué M, García O, Tapia G, Baptista MJ, Moreno M, Mate JL, Sancho JM, FeliuE, Ribera JM, Navarro JT. AIDS. 2017 Mar 29. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001487. [Epub ahead of print]

Objective: Classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) is a non-AIDS-defining cancer with good response to chemotherapy in the combined antiretroviral therapy (cART) era. The aim of the study was to compare the characteristics, the response with treatment and survival of advanced-stage cHL treated with adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine (ABVD) between cART-treated HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.

Design and methods: We retrospectively analyzed advanced-stage cHL patients from a single institution, uniformly treated with ABVD. All HIV-positive patients received cART concomitantly with ABVD.

Results: A total of 69 patients were included in the study: 21 were HIV-positive and 48 were HIV-negative. HIV-positive patients had more aggressive features at cHL diagnosis, such as worse performance status, more frequent bone marrow involvement and mixed cellularity histologic subtype. There were no differences in complete response rate (89% in HIV-positive vs. 91% in HIV-negative), P = 1; disease-free survival 10-year disease-free survival 70% (41-99%) vs. 74% (57-91%), P = 0.907 and overall survival (OS) 10-year OS 73% (95% confidence interval52-94%) vs. 68% (51-85%), P = 0.904. On multivariate analysis, HIV infection did not correlate with worse OS.

Conclusion: Although HIV-positive patients with cHL had more aggressive baseline features in this series, there were no differences in response rate or survival between HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.

Abstract access 

Predictors of longitudinal change in bone mineral density in a cohort of HIV-positive and negative patients.

Tinago W, Cotter AG, Sabin CA, Macken A, Kavanagh E, Brady JJ, McCarthy G,Compston J, Mallon PW; HIV UPBEAT Study Group.225. AIDS. 2017 Mar 13;31(5):643-652. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001372.

Objective: Although low bone mineral density (BMD) is prevalent in HIV, changes in BMD over time remain unclear. We aimed to compare rates of, and factors associated with, BMD change between HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients.

Methods: In a prospective, 3-year cohort, HIV-positive and HIV-negative patients provided annual demographic and clinical data, fasting bloods, and dual x-ray absorptiometry. Using longitudinal mixed models we compared and determined predictors of rate of change in BMD.

Results: Of 384 study participants (45.8% HIV positive), 120 contributed two and 264 contributed three BMD measurements. Those with HIV were younger [median interquartile range 39 (34-46) vs. 43 (35-50) years; P = 0.04], more often men (61 vs. 46%; P = 0.003), and less likely Caucasian (61 vs. 82%; P < 0.001).Although BMD was lower in those with HIV, BMD declined in both groups, with nonsignificant between-group difference in rate of BMD change over time. Within the HIV group, starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) within 3 months of enrolment was associated with greater BMD decline at all anatomical sites (all P < 0.001). Age more than 30 years, Caucasian ethnicity, and not being on ART during follow-up were associated with greater decline and higher parathyroid hormone associated with a smaller decline in BMD at the femoral neck. We found no association between BMD change and exposure to tenofovir disoproxil fumarate or protease inhibitors.

Conclusion: We observed no difference in rate of BMD decline regardless of HIV status and in HIV-positive patient, having started ART within the previous 3 months was the only factor associated with greater BMD decline at all three sites.

Abstract access 

Switching from tenofovir disoproxil fumarate to tenofovir alafenamide coformulated with rilpivirine and emtricitabine in virally suppressed adults with HIV-1 infection: a randomised, double-blind, multicentre, phase 3b, non-inferiority study.

Orkin C,  DeJesus E, Ramgopal M, Crofoot G, Ruane P, LaMarca A, Mills A, Vandercam B, de Wet J, Rockstroh J, Lazzarin A, Rijnders B, Podzamczer D, Thalme A, Stoeckle M, Porter D, Liu HC, Cheng A, Quirk E, SenGupta D, Cao H. Lancet HIV. 2017 Mar 1. pii: S2352-3018(17)30031-0. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30031-0. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Tenofovir alafenamide, a tenofovir prodrug, results in 90% lower tenofovir plasma concentrations than does tenofovir disproxil fumarate, thereby minimising bone and renal risks. We investigated the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of switching to a single-tablet regimen containing rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide compared with remaining on rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

Methods: In this randomised, double-blind, multicentre, placebo-controlled, non-inferiority trial, HIV-1-infected adults were screened and enrolled at 119 hospitals in 11 countries in North America and Europe. Participants were virally suppressed (HIV-1 RNA <50 copies per ml) on rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate for at least 6 months before enrolment and had creatinine clearance of at least 50 ml/min. Participants were randomly assigned(1:1) to receive a single-tablet regimen of either rilpivirine (25 mg), emtricitabine (200 mg), and tenofovir alafenamide (25 mg) or to remain on a single-tablet regimen of rilpivirine (25 mg), emtricitabine (200 mg), and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (300 mg), with matching placebo, once daily for 96 weeks. Investigators, participants, study staff, and those assessing outcomes were masked to treatment group. All participants who received one dose of study drug and were on the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate regimen before screening were included in primary efficacy analyses. The primary endpoint was the proportion of participants with less than 50 copies per ml of plasma HIV-1 RNA at week 48 (by the US Food and Drug Administration snapshot algorithm), with a prespecified non-inferiority margin of 8%. This study was registered with clinicaltrials.gov, number NCT01815736.

Findings: Between Jan 26, 2015, and Aug 25, 2015, 630 participants were randomised (316 to the tenofovir alafenamide group and 314 to the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate group). At week 48, 296 (94%) of 316 participants on tenofovir alafenamide and 294 (94%) of 313 on tenofovir disoproxil fumarate had maintained less than 50 copies per ml HIV-1 RNA (difference -0·3%, 95·001% CI-4·2 to 3·7), showing non-inferiority of tenofovir alafenamide to tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. Numbers of adverse events were similar between groups. 20(6%) of 316 participants had study-drug related adverse events in the tenofovir alafenamide group compared with 37 (12%) of 314 in the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate group; none of these were serious.

Interpretation: Switching to rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide was non-inferior to continuing rilpivirine, emtricitabine, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate in maintaining viral suppression and was well tolerated at 48 weeks. These findings support guidelines recommending tenofovir alafenamide-based regimens, including coformulation with rilpivirine and emtricitabine, as initial and ongoing treatment for HIV-1 infection.

Abstract access 

Switching from efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate to tenofovir alafenamide coformulated with rilpivirine and emtricitabine in virally suppressed adults with HIV-1 infection: a randomised, double-blind, multicentre, phase 3b, non-inferiority study.

DeJesus E, Ramgopal M, Crofoot G, Ruane P, LaMarca A, Mills A, Martorell CT, de Wet J, Stellbrink HJ, Molina JM, Post FA, Valero IP, Porter D, Liu Y, Cheng A, Quirk E, SenGupta D, Cao H. Lancet HIV. 2017 Mar 1. pii: S2352-3018(17)30032-2. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30032-2. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Tenofovir alafenamide is a prodrug that reduces tenofovir plasma concentrations by 90% compared with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, thereby decreasing bone and renal risks. The coformulation of rilpivirine, emtricitabine,and tenofovir alafenamide has recently been approved, and we aimed to investigate the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of switching to this regimen compared with remaining on coformulated efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate.

Methods: In this randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, non-inferiority trial, HIV-1-infected adults were enrolled at 120 hospitals and outpatient clinics in eight countries in North America and Europe. Participants were virally suppressed (HIV-1 RNA <50 copies per mL) on efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate for at least 6 months before enrolment and had creatinine clearance of at least 50 mL/min. Participants were randomly assigned(1:1) to receive a single-tablet regimen of rilpivirine (25 mg), emtricitabine(200 mg), and tenofovir alafenamide (25 mg) or to continue a single-tablet regimen of efavirenz (600 mg), emtricitabine (200 mg), and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (300 mg), with matching placebo. Investigators, participants, study staff, and those assessing outcomes were masked to treatment group. The primary endpoint was the proportion of participants with plasma HIV-1 RNA of less than 50copies per mL at week 48 (assessed by the US Food and Drug Administration snapshot algorithm), with a prespecified non-inferiority margin of 8%. This study was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT02345226.

Findings: Between Jan 26, 2015, and Aug 27, 2015, 875 participants were randomly assigned and treated (438 with rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide and 437 with efavirenz, emtricitabine, tenofovir disoproxil fumarate). Viral suppression at week 48 was maintained in 394 (90%) of 438 participants assigned to the tenofovir alafenamide regimen and 402 (92%) of 437 assigned to the tenofovir disoproxil fumarate regimen (difference -2·0%, 95·001% CI -5·9 to 1·8), demonstrating non-inferiority. 56 (13%) of 438 in participants in the rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide group experienced treatment-related adverse events compared with 45 (10%) of 437 in the efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate group.

Interpretation: Switching to rilpivirine, emtricitabine, and tenofovir alafenamide from efavirenz, emtricitabine, and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate was non-inferior in maintaining viral suppression and was well tolerated at 48 weeks. These findings support guidelines recommending tenofovir alafenamide-based regimens, including coformulation with rilpivirine and emtricitabine, as initial and ongoing treatment for HIV-1 infection.

Abstract access 

Incidence and risk factors for hypertension among HIV patients in rural Tanzania - A prospective cohort study.

Rodríguez-Arbolí E, Mwamelo K, Kalinjuma AV, Furrer H, Hatz C, Tanner M, Battegay M, Letang E; KIULARCO Study Group. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 8;12(3):e0172089. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0172089.eCollection 2017.

Introduction: Scarce data are available on the epidemiology of hypertension among HIV patients in rural sub-Saharan Africa. We explored the prevalence, incidence and risk factors for incident hypertension among patients who were enrolled in a rural HIV cohort in Tanzania.

Methods: Prospective longitudinal study including HIV patients enrolled in the Kilombero and Ulanga Antiretroviral Cohort between 2013 and 2015. Non-ART naïve subjects at baseline and pregnant women during follow-up were excluded from the analysis. Incident hypertension was defined as systolic blood pressure ≥ 140 mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure ≥ 90 mmHg on two consecutive visits. Cox proportional hazards models were used to assess the association of baseline characteristics and incident hypertension.

Results: Among 955 ART-naïve, eligible subjects, 111 (11.6%) were hypertensive at recruitment. Ten women were excluded due to pregnancy. The remaining 834 individuals contributed 7967 person-months to follow-up (median 231 days, IQR 119-421) and 80 (9.6%) of them developed hypertension during a median follow-up of 144 days from time of enrolment into the cohort [incidence rate 120.0 cases/1000 person-years, 95% confidence interval (CI) 97.2-150.0]. ART was started in 630 (75.5%) patients, with a median follow-up on ART of 7 months (IQR 4-14). Cox regression models identified age [adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) 1.34 per 10 years increase, 95% CI 1.07-1.68, p = 0.010], body mass index (aHR per 5 kg/m2 1.45, 95% CI 1.07-1.99, p = 0.018) and estimated glomerular filtration rate (aHR < 60 versus ≥ 60 ml/min/1.73 m2 3.79, 95% CI 1.60-8.99, p = 0.003) as independent risk factors for hypertension development.

Conclusions: The prevalence and incidence of hypertension were high in our cohort. Traditional cardiovascular risk factors predicted incident hypertension, but no association was observed with immunological or ART status. These data support the implementation of routine hypertension screening and integrated management into HIV programmes in rural sub-Saharan Africa.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Cigarette smoking is associated with high HIV viral load among adults presenting for antiretroviral therapy in Vietnam.

Pollack TM, Duong HT, Pham TT, Do CD, Colby D. PLoS One. 2017 Mar 7;12(3):e0173534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0173534.eCollection 2017.

High HIV viral load (VL >100 000 cp/ml) is associated with increased HIV transmission risk, faster progression to AIDS, and reduced response to some antiretroviral regimens. To better understand factors associated with high VL, we examined characteristics of patients presenting for treatment in Hanoi, Vietnam. We examined baseline data from the Viral Load Monitoring in Vietnam Study, a randomized controlled trial of routine VL monitoring in a population starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) at a clinic in Hanoi. Patients with prior treatment failure or ART resistance were excluded. Characteristics examined included demographics, clinical and laboratory data, and substance use. Logistic regression was used to calculate crude and adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Out of 636 patients, 62.7% were male, 72.9% were ≥30 years old, and 28.3% had a history of drug injection. Median CD4 was 132cells/mm3, and 34.9% were clinical stage IV. Active cigarette smoking was reported by 36.3% with 14.0% smoking >10 cigarettes per day. Alcohol consumption was reported by 20.1% with 6.1% having ≥5 drinks per event. Overall 53.0% had a VL >100 000 cp/ml. Male gender, low body weight, low CD4 count, prior TB, and cigarette smoking were associated with high VL. Those who smoked 1-10 cigarettes per day were more likely to have high VL (aOR = 1.99, 95% CI = 1.15-3.45), while the smaller number of patients who smoked >10 cigarettes per day had a non-significant trend toward higher VL (aOR = 1.41, 95% CI = 0.75-2.66). Alcohol consumption was not significantly associated with high VL. Tobacco use is increasingly recognized as a contributor to premature morbidity and mortality among HIV-infected patients. In our study, cigarette smoking in the last 30 days was associated with a 1.5 to 2-fold higher odds of having an HIV VL >100 000 cp/ml among patients presenting for ART. These findings provide further evidence of the negative effects of tobacco use among HIV-infected patients.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Predictors of eGFR progression, stabilisation or improvement after chronic renal impairment in HIV-positive individuals.

Ryom L, Mocroft A, Kirk O, Reiss P, Ross M, Smith C, Moranne O, Morlat P, Fux CA, Sabin C, Phillips A, Law M, Lundgren JD; D:A:D study group. AIDS. 2017 Mar 28. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000001464. [Epub ahead of print]

Objectives: The objectives of this analysis were to investigate predictors of progression, stabilisation or improvement in eGFR after development of chronic renal impairment (CRI) in HIV-positive individuals.

Design: Prospective observational study.

Methods: D:A:D study participants progressing to CRI defined as confirmed, ≥ 3 months apart, eGFR ≤70  mL/min/1.73m were included in the analysis. The median of all eGFRs measured 24-36 months post-CRI was compared to the median eGFR defining CRI, and changes were grouped into: improvement (>+10 mL/min/1.73m), stabilisation (-10 to +10 mL/min/1.73m) and progression (<-10 mL/min/1.73m). Adjusted polynomial regression models assessed odds of better eGFR outcomes after CRI, assuming eGFR improvement is better than stabilisation which in turn is better than progression.

Results: Of 2006 individuals developing CRI, 21% subsequently improved eGFR, 67% stabilised and 12% progressed. Individuals remaining on TDF or boosted atazanavir (ATV/r) 24 months post-CRI had worse eGFR outcomes compared to those unexposed (TDF: 0.47 [0.35-0.63], ATV/r: 0.63 [0.48-0.82]). Individuals off TDF for 12-24 months (0.75 [0.50-1.13]) or off ATV/r for >12 months (1.17 [0.87-1.57]) had similar eGFR outcomes as those unexposed to these ARVs. Older age, hypertension, later date of CRI and diabetes were associated with worse eGFR outcomes.

Conclusion: Current TDF and ATV/r use after a diagnosis of CRI was associated with worse eGFR outcomes. In contrast, TDF and ATV/r discontinuation lead to similar longer-term eGFR outcomes as in those unexposed suggesting these drug-associated eGFR declines may be halted or reversed after their cessation.

Abstract access  

Comorbidity, HIV Treatment
Africa, Asia, Europe, Northern America, Oceania
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Weekends off ART: a strategy to maintain adherence in children and adolescents?

Weekends-off efavirenz-based antiretroviral therapy in HIV-infected children, adolescents, and young adults (BREATHER): a randomised, open-label, non-inferiority, phase 2/3 trial.

The BREATHER (PENTA 16) Trial Group. Lancet HIV. 2016 Sep;3(9):e421-30. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(16)30054-6. Epub 2016 Jun 20.

Background: For HIV-1-infected young people facing lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), short cycle therapy with long-acting drugs offers potential for drug-free weekends, less toxicity, and better quality-of-life. We aimed to compare short cycle therapy (5 days on, 2 days off ART) versus continuous therapy (continuous ART).

Methods: In this open-label, non-inferiority trial (BREATHER), eligible participants were aged 8-24 years, were stable on first-line efavirenz with two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, and had HIV-1 RNA viral load less than 50 copies per mL for 12 months or longer. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to remain on continuous therapy or change to short cycle therapy according to a computer-generated randomisation list, with permuted blocks of varying size, stratified by age and African versus non-African sites; the list was prepared by the trial statistician and randomisation was done via a web service accessed by site clinician or one of the three coordinating trials units. The primary outcome was the proportion of participants with confirmed viral load 50 copies per mL or higher at any time up to the 48 week assessment, estimated with the Kaplan-Meier method. The trial was powered to exclude a non-inferiority margin of 12%. Analyses were intention to treat. The trial was registered with EudraCT, number 2009-012947-40, ISRCTN, number 97755073, and CTA, number 27505/0005/001-0001.

Findings: Between April 1, 2011, and June 28, 2013, 199 participants from 11 countries worldwide were randomly assigned, 99 to the short cycle therapy and 100 to continuous therapy, and were followed up until the last patient reached 48 weeks. 105 (53%) were men, median age was 14 years (IQR 12-18), and median CD4 cell count was 735 cells per µL (IQR 576-968). Six percent (6%) patients assigned to the short cycle therapy versus seven percent (7%) assigned to continuous therapy had confirmed viral load 50 copies per mL or higher (difference -1.2%, 90% CI -7.3 to 4.9, non-inferiority shown). 13 grade 3 or 4 events occurred in the short cycle therapy group and 14 in the continuous therapy group (p=0.89). Two ART-related adverse events (one gynaecomastia and one spontaneous abortion) occurred in the short cycle therapy group compared with 14 (p=0.02) in the continuous therapy group (five lipodystrophy, two gynaecomastia, one suicidal ideation, one dizziness, one headache and syncope, one spontaneous abortion, one neutropenia, and two raised transaminases).

Interpretation: Non-inferiority of maintaining virological suppression in children, adolescents, and young adults was shown for short cycle therapy versus continuous therapy at 48 weeks, with similar resistance and a better safety profile. This short cycle therapy strategy is a viable option for adherent HIV-infected young people who are stable on efavirenz-based ART.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Increasing number of children born with HIV infection, who would otherwise have died in infancy, are now reaching adolescence because of the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Adherence to treatment for chronic illnesses often drops as children approach adolescence, and unfortunately HIV is no exception.  

BREATHER is an open-label, non-inferiority trial comparing continuous daily ART (CT) with short cycle treatment (SCT) enabling two days off treatment every week. The participants were aged 8 to 24 years and had to have been virally suppressed for at least one year prior to enrolment on an ART regimen containing efavirenz. At 48 weeks, 6.1% of children in the SCT arm versus 7.3% in the CT arm had virologic rebound (defined as an HIV viral load > 50 copies/ml), demonstrating that SCT is non-inferior to CT. There was no statistical difference between arms in the proportion who developed major resistance mutations or in proportion of adverse events.

This is the first trial to demonstrate that controlled interruption appears to be safe in terms of maintaining viral suppression and lack of emergence of drug resistance mutations. Notably, the trial was conducted in geographically diverse settings (11 countries) and achieved an impressive retention rate with only one participant being lost to follow-up. In addition, the strategy was highly acceptable to participants, particularly as it provided a legitimate way of missing doses. Children are expected to take ART for 20 years longer on average than adults and strategies that enable time off ART may be an effective way to reduce treatment fatigue. In addition, reduced ART usage may provide potential cost savings. 

A concern, however, is that such a strategy may give out the detrimental message that missing doses is acceptable and may not affect the viral load. Therefore, appropriate counselling is important to ensure that people understand that there is a maximum break in treatment of two designated days per week. It is also important to note that the findings of this study are only generalisable to people who are stable on ART, who have not experienced treatment failure and who are taking efavirenz-based regimens. The trial was carried out with intensive viral load monitoring and further research is required to work out how such a strategy could be safely implemented in settings where routine viral load monitoring may not be available.

Viral suppression is the ultimate goal to improve health outcomes and reduce HIV transmission. Consistent adherence to ART is critical to ensure sustained virologic suppression. Children and adolescents face multiple challenges to adhere to treatment and a number of different approaches to address this are required- this trial now provides an innovative and promising option to offer to children.

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Weekend breaks on efavirenz-based ART non-inferior in adolescents

BREATHER (PENTA 16) short-cycle therapy (SCT) (5 days on/2 days off) in young people with chronic human immunodeficiency virus infection: an open, randomised, parallel-group Phase II/III trial.

Butler K, Inshaw J, Ford D, Bernays S, Scott K, Kenny J, Klein N, Turkova A, Harper L, Nastouli E, Paparini S, Choudhury R, Rhodes T, Babiker A, Gibb D. Health Technol Assess. 2016 Jun;20(49):1-108. doi: 10.3310/hta20490.

Background: For human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected adolescents facing lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART), short-cycle therapy (SCT) with long-acting agents offers the potential for drug-free weekends, less toxicity, better adherence and cost savings.

Objectives: To determine whether or not efavirenz (EFV)-based ART in short cycles of 5 days on and 2 days off is as efficacious (in maintaining virological suppression) as continuous EFV-based ART (continuous therapy; CT). Secondary objectives included the occurrence of new clinical HIV events or death, changes in immunological status, emergence of HIV drug resistance, drug toxicity and changes in therapy.

Design: Open, randomised, non-inferiority trial.

Setting: Europe, Thailand, Uganda, Argentina and the USA.

Participants: Young people (aged 8-24 years) on EFV plus two nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and with a HIV-1 ribonucleic acid level [viral load (VL)] of < 50 copies/ml for > 12 months.

Interventions: Young people were randomised to continue daily ART (CT) or change to SCT (5 days on, 2 days off ART).

Main outcome measures: Follow-up was for a minimum of 48 weeks (0, 4 and 12 weeks and then 12-weekly visits). The primary outcome was the difference between arms in the proportion with VL > 50 copies/ml (confirmed) by 48 weeks, estimated using the Kaplan-Meier method (12% non-inferiority margin) adjusted for region and age.

Results: In total, 199 young people (11 countries) were randomised (n = 99 SCT group, n = 100 CT group) and followed for a median of 86 weeks. Overall, 53% were male; the median age was 14 years (21% ≥ 18 years); 13% were from the UK, 56% were black, 19% were Asian and 21% were Caucasian; and the median CD4% and CD4 count were 34% and 735 cells/mm3, respectively. By week 48, only one participant (CT) was lost to follow-up. The SCT arm had a 27% decreased drug exposure as measured by the adherence questionnaire and a MEMSCap Medication Event Monitoring System (MEMSCap Inc., Durham, NC, USA) substudy (median cap openings per week: SCT group, n = 5; CT group, n = 7). By 48 weeks, six participants in the SCT group and seven in the CT group had a confirmed VL > 50 copies/ml [difference -1.2%, 90% confidence interval (CI) -7.3% to 4.9%] and two in the SCT group and four in the CT group had a confirmed VL > 400 copies/ml (difference -2.1%, 90% CI -6.2% to 1.9%). All six participants in the SCT group with a VL > 50 copies/ml resumed daily ART, of whom five were resuppressed, three were on the same regimen and two with a switch; two others on SCT resumed daily ART for other reasons. Overall, three participants in the SCT group and nine in the CT group (p = 0.1) changed ART regimen, five because of toxicity, four for simplification reasons, two because of compliance issues and one because of VL failure. Seven young people (SCT group, n = 2; CT group, n = 5) had major non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor mutations at VL failure, of whom two (n = 1 SCT group, n = 1 CT group) had the M184V mutation. Two young people had new Centers for Disease Control B events (SCT group, n = 1; CT group, n = 1). There were no significant differences between SCT and CT in grade 3/4 adverse events (13 vs. 14) or in serious adverse events (7 vs. 6); there were fewer ART-related adverse events in the SCT arm (2 vs. 14; p = 0.02). At week 48 there was no evidence that SCT led to increased inflammation using an extensive panel of markers. Young people expressed a strong preference for SCT in a qualitative substudy and in pre- and post-trial questionnaires. In total, 98% of the young people are taking part in a 2-year follow-up extension of the trial.

Conclusions: Non-inferiority of VL suppression in young people on EFV-based first-line ART with a VL of < 50 copies/ml was demonstrated for SCT compared with CT, with similar resistance, safety and inflammatory marker profiles. The SCT group had fewer ART-related adverse events. Further evaluation of the immunological and virological impact of SCT is ongoing. A limitation of the trial is that the results cannot be generalised to settings where VL monitoring is either not available or infrequent, nor to use of low-dose EFV. Two-year extended follow-up of the trial is ongoing to confirm the durability of the SCT strategy. Further trials of SCT in settings with infrequent VL monitoring and with other antiretroviral drugs such as tenofovir alafenamide, which has a long intracellular half-life, and/or dolutegravir, which has a higher barrier to resistance, are planned.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN97755073; EUDRACT 2009-012947-40; and CTA 27505/0005/001-0001.

Funding: This project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme (projects 08/53/25 and 11/136/108), the European Commission through EuroCoord (FP7/2007/2015), the Economic and Social Research Council, the PENTA Foundation, the Medical Research Council and INSERM SC10-US19, France, and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 20, No. 49. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Adherence to ART has been shown to deteriorate in adolescence, with missed doses occurring particularly at weekends. Pharmacokinetic properties of some ART drugs, such as efavirenz, allow for a break in pill taking without a break in effective treatment. Non-inferiority trials evaluating five days on, two days off in adults have shown continuous ART to be non-inferior with low rates of virologic rebound.  This formed the rationale for this global, randomised Phase II/III trial in young people.

In the BREATHER trial, non-inferiority of viral suppression in adolescents on efavirenz-based first-line ART was shown for short-cycle treatment compared with continuous treatment. Overall 93% of adolescents remained virally suppressed. Findings from the two-year long-term follow-up phase will confirm if short-cycle treatment is effective and safe in this population.  Further studies are required to confirm the applicability of this strategy in real-life settings where viral load monitoring is likely to be less frequent than in a trial setting.

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Abacavir: a safe first line drug for children

Adverse events associated with abacavir use in HIV-infected children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Jesson J, Dahourou DL, Renaud F, Penazzato M, Leroy V. Lancet HIV. 2016 Feb;3(2):e64-75. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00225-8. Epub 2015 Dec 7.

Background: Concerns exist about the toxicity of drugs used in the implementation of large-scale antiretroviral programmes, and documentation of antiretroviral toxicity is essential. We did a systematic review and meta-analysis of adverse events among children and adolescents receiving regimens that contain abacavir, a widely used antiretroviral drug.

Methods: We searched bibliographic databases and abstracts from relevant conferences from Jan 1, 2000, to March 1, 2015. All experimental and observational studies of HIV-infected patients aged 0-18 years who used abacavir, were eligible. Incidence of adverse outcomes in patients taking abacavir (number of new events in a period divided by population at risk at the beginning of the study) and relative risks (RR) compared with non-abacavir regimens were pooled with random effects models.

Findings: Of 337 records and 21 conference abstracts identified, nine studies (eight full-text articles and one abstract) collected information about 2546 children, of whom 1769 (69%) were on abacavir regimens. Among children and adolescents taking abacavir, hypersensitivity reactions (eight studies) had a pooled incidence of 2.2% (95% CI 0.4-5.2); treatment switching or discontinuation (seven studies) pooled incidence was 10.9% (2.1-24.3); of grade 3-4 adverse events (six studies) pooled incidence was 9.9% (2.4-20.9); and adverse events other than hypersensitivity reaction (six studies) pooled incidence was 21.5% (2.8-48.4). Between-study inconsistency was significant for all outcomes (p<0.0001 for all inconsistencies). Incidence of death (four studies) was 3.3% (95% CI 1.5-5.6). In the three randomised clinical trials with comparative data, no increased risk of hypersensitivity reaction (pooled RR 1.08; 95% CI 0.19-6.15), grade 3 or 4 events (0.79 [0.44-1.42]), or death (1.72 [0.77-3.82]) was noted for abacavir relative to non-abacavir regimens. None of the reported deaths were related to abacavir.

Interpretation: Abacavir-related toxicity occurs early after ART initiation and is manageable. Abacavir can be safely used for first-line or second-line antiretroviral regimens in children and adolescents, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where HLA B5701 genotype is rare.

Abstract access

Editor’s notes: Abacavir is a nucleoside reverse transciptase inhibitor (NRTI), available as a paediatric formulation. Abacavir in combination with lamivudine is the preferred NRTI backbone for children aged three to ten years and for adolescents weighing under 35 kilograms. It is thus part of both first- and second-line antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens recommended for children by World Health Organization (WHO), American and European guidelines.  

In the context of implementation of large-scale ART programmes where abacavir is recommended as the NRTI of choice, understanding its toxicity is crucial. In adults the main concern is the increased risk of hypersensitivity reactions, particularly among people with the HLA B5701 genotype, and of myocardial infarction. Children have specific characteristics that affect both the pharmacokinetic profiles of drugs, and also drug tolerability in the short and the long term. Despite the widespread use of abacavir, there has been no systematic evaluation of the toxicity profile of abacavir in children. 

This systematic review of nine studies conducted between 2000 and 2015 demonstrates that there is a low risk of hypersensitivity reactions, especially for children living in sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of children with HIV live. This is consistent with studies in adults which illustrates that the frequency of the HLAB5701 allele genotype in African populations is low, estimated to be less than two percent.

Other adverse events such as gastrointestinal symptoms and laboratory abnormalities were common. Rates of adverse events should be interpreted with caution as these could depend on factors such as other drugs in the regimen, adherence and so on. Furthermore, data on adverse events were obtained from cohort studies that were not blinded and selection or recall bias cannot be excluded.

Notwithstanding this, most adverse events occurred early after initiation of abacavir, were no more common than with other NRTI regimens, and were manageable. Importantly, there were no deaths associated with abacavir in any of the reported studies. This study supports the use of abacavir as a preferred drug in the NRTI backbone for treatment of children living with HIV. 

HIV Treatment
Africa, Europe, Latin America
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Violence experience of women living with HIV: a global study

Violence. Enough already: findings from a global participatory survey among women living with HIV.

Orza L, Bewley S, Chung C, Crone ET, Nagadya H, Vazquez M, Welbourn A. J Int AIDS Soc. 2015 Dec 1;18(6 Suppl 5):20285. doi: 10.7448/IAS.18.6.20285. eCollection 2015.

Introduction: Women living with HIV are vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) before and after diagnosis, in multiple settings. This study's aim was to explore how GBV is experienced by women living with HIV, how this affects women's sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and human rights (HR), and the implications for policymakers.

Methods: A community-based, participatory, user-led, mixed-methods study was conducted, with women living with HIV from key affected populations. Simple descriptive frequencies were used for quantitative data. Thematic coding of open qualitative responses was performed and validated with key respondents.

Results: In total, 945 women living with HIV from 94 countries participated in the study. Eighty-nine percent of 480 respondents to an optional section on GBV reported having experienced or feared violence, either before, since and/or because of their HIV diagnosis. GBV reporting was higher after HIV diagnosis (intimate partner, family/neighbours, community and health settings). Women described a complex and iterative relationship between GBV and HIV occurring throughout their lives, including breaches of confidentiality and lack of SRH choice in healthcare settings, forced/coerced treatments, HR abuses, moralistic and judgemental attitudes (including towards women from key populations), and fear of losing child custody. Respondents recommended healthcare practitioners and policymakers address stigma and discrimination, training, awareness-raising, and HR abuses in healthcare settings.

Conclusions: Respondents reported increased GBV with partners and in families, communities and healthcare settings after their HIV diagnosis and across the life-cycle. Measures of GBV must be sought and monitored, particularly within healthcare settings that should be safe. Respondents offered policymakers a comprehensive range of recommendations to achieve their SRH and HR goals. Global guidance documents and policies are more likely to succeed for the end-users if lived experiences are used.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Violence against women who are living with HIV is common globally. This paper reports on a study of 832 women living with HIV from 94 countries who participated in an online survey, recruited through a non-random snowball sampling model. The survey comprised quantitative and qualitative (free text) components. Participants included women who had ever or were currently using injection drugs (14%), who had ever or were currently selling sex (14%), and who had ever or were currently homeless (14%). Lifetime experience of violence among respondents was high (86%). Perpetrators included: intimate partner (59%), family member / neighbour (45%), community member (53%), health care workers (53%) and police, military, prison or detention services (17%). Findings suggest that violence is not a one off occurrence and cannot easily be packaged as a cause or a consequence of HIV. Instead violence occurs throughout women’s lives, takes multiple forms, and has a complex and iterative relationship with HIV.

The study population did not represent all women living with HIV, and was biased towards women with internet access who have an activist interest. Nonetheless, the study provides further evidence of the breadth and frequency of gender based violence experienced by women living with HIV. Key recommendations for policy makers include training of health care workers working in sexual and reproductive services to offer non-discriminatory services to women living with HIV and to effectively respond to disclosures of gender based violence (such as intimate partner violence) as part of the package of care.

Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Republic of the Congo, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Togo, Transdniestria, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe
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AIDS and bacterial disease remain leading causes of hospital admission

Causes of hospital admission among people living with HIV worldwide: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Ford N, Shubber Z, Meintjes G, Grinsztejn B, Eholie S, Mills EJ, Davies MA, Vitoria M, Penazzato M, Nsanzimana S, Frigati L, O'Brien D, Ellman T, Ajose O, Calmy A, Doherty M. Lancet HIV. 2015 Oct;2(10):e438-44. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00137-X. Epub 2015 Aug 11.

Background: Morbidity associated with HIV infection is poorly characterised, so we aimed to investigate the contribution of different comorbidities to hospital admission and in-hospital mortality in adults and children living with HIV worldwide.

Methods: Using a broad search strategy combining terms for hospital admission and HIV infection, we searched MEDLINE via PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, LILACS, AIM, IMEMR and WPIMR from inception to Jan 31, 2015, to identify studies reporting cause of hospital admission in people living with HIV. We focused on data reported after 2007, the period in which access to antiretroviral therapy started to become widespread. We estimated pooled proportions of hospital admissions and deaths per disease category by use of random-effects models. We stratified data by geographical region and age.

Findings: We obtained data from 106 cohorts, with reported causes of hospital admission for  313 006 adults and 6182 children living with HIV. For adults, AIDS-related illnesses (25 119 patients, 46%, 95% CI 40-53) and bacterial infections (14 034 patients, 31%, 20-42) were the leading causes of hospital admission. These two categories were the most common causes of hospital admission for adults in all geographical regions and the most common causes of mortality. Common region-specific causes of hospital admission included malnutrition and wasting, parasitic infections, and haematological disorders in the Africa region; respiratory disease, psychiatric disorders, renal disorders, cardiovascular disorders, and liver disease in Europe; haematological disorders in North America; and respiratory, neurological, digestive and liver-related conditions, viral infections, and drug toxicity in South and Central America. For children, AIDS-related illnesses (783 patients, 27%, 95% CI 19-34) and bacterial infections (1190 patients, 41%, 26-56) were the leading causes of hospital admission, followed by malnutrition and wasting, haematological disorders, and, in the African region, malaria. Mortality in individuals admitted to hospital was 20% (95% CI 18-23, 12 902 deaths) for adults and 14% (10-19, 643 deaths) for children.

Interpretation: This review shows the importance of prompt HIV diagnosis and treatment, and the need to reinforce existing recommendations to provide chemoprophylaxis and vaccination against major preventable infectious diseases to people living with HIV to reduce serious AIDS and non-AIDS morbidity.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: Despite the widening availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART), HIV-associated disease remains an important cause of illness and death. In this systematic review the authors summarise published data concerning causes of hospital admission among HIV-positive people since 2007. This date was selected on the basis that access to ART was limited prior to 2007.

Overall the most common causes of admission among adults, across all geographical regions, were AIDS-associated illness and bacterial infections. Tuberculosis was the most common cause among adults, accounting for 18% of all admissions, followed by bacterial pneumonia (15%). Among children, similarly AIDS-associated illnesses (particularly tuberculosis and Pneumocystis pneumonia) and bacterial infections were the most common causes of admission. Among the 20% of adults who died during their admission, the most common causes of death were tuberculosis, bacterial infections, cerebral toxoplasmosis and cryptococcal meningitis. Among children the most common causes of death were tuberculosis, bacterial infections and Pneumocystis pneumonia. Tuberculosis is likely to have been underestimated in these studies. Autopsy studies consistently illustrate that around half of HIV-positive people who have tuberculosis identified at autopsy had not been diagnosed prior to death.

The review highlights that the majority of severe HIV-associated disease remains attributable to advanced immunosuppression. This is reflected by a median CD4 count at admission among adults of 168 cells per µl. Some 30% of people first tested HIV positive at the time of the admission. The review underlines the need to promote HIV testing so that HIV-positive people can access ART, and prevent the complications of advanced HIV disease. It also underscores the need for better coverage of screening for tuberculosis and preventive therapy for people without active disease.  

Avoid TB deaths
Comorbidity, Epidemiology
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When to switch to second-line ART in children?

HIV-1 drug resistance and second-line treatment in children randomized to switch at low versus higher RNA thresholds.

Harrison L, Melvin A, Fiscus S, Saidi Y, Nastouli E, Harper L, Compagnucci A, Babiker A, McKinney R, Gibb D, Tudor-Williams G; PENPACT-1 (PENTA 9PACTG 390) Study Team. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2015 Sep 1;70(1):42-53. doi: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000000671.

Background: The PENPACT-1 trial compared virologic thresholds to determine when to switch to second-line antiretroviral therapy (ART). Using PENPACT-1 data, we aimed to describe HIV-1 drug resistance accumulation on first-line ART by virologic threshold.

Methods: PENPACT-1 had a 2 x 2 factorial design, randomizing HIV-infected children to start protease inhibitor (PI) versus nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI)-based ART, and switch at a 1000 copies/mL versus 30 000 copies/mL threshold. Switch criteria were not achieving the threshold by week 24, confirmed rebound above the threshold thereafter, or Center for Disease Control and Prevention stage C event. Resistance tests were performed on samples ≥1000 copies/mL before switch, resuppression, and at 4-years/trial end.

Results: Sixty-seven children started PI-based ART and were randomized to switch at 1000 copies/mL (PI-1000), 64 PIs and 30 000 copies/mL (PI-30 000), 67 NNRTIs and 1000 copies/mL (NNRTI-1000), and 65 NNRTI and 30 000 copies/mL (NNRTI-30 000). Ninety-four (36%) children reached the 1000 copies/mL switch criteria during 5-year follow-up. In 30 000 copies/mL threshold arms, median time from 1000 to 30 000 copies/mL switch criteria was 58 (PI) versus 80 (NNRTI) weeks (P = 0.81). In NNRTI-30 000, more nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI) resistance mutations accumulated than other groups. NNRTI mutations were selected before switching at 1000 copies/mL (23% NNRTI-1000, 27% NNRTI-30 000). Sixty-two children started abacavir + lamivudine, 166 lamivudine + zidovudine or stavudine, and 35 other NRTIs. The abacavir + lamivudine group acquired fewest NRTI mutations. Of 60 switched to second-line, 79% PI-1000, 63% PI-30 000, 64% NNRTI-1000, and 100% NNRTI-30 000 were <400 copies/mL 24 weeks later.

Conclusions: Children on first-line NNRTI-based ART who were randomized to switch at a higher virologic threshold developed the most resistance, yet resuppressed on second-line. An abacavir + lamivudine NRTI combination seemed protective against development of NRTI resistance.

Abstract access 

Editor’s notes: Paediatric guidelines recommend that children living with HIV initiate ART early in life. Therefore duration of treatment is likely to be for several decades in children. Children have tended to be maintained on failing therapies longer than adults due to limited treatment options, particularly in resource-limited settings.

The PENPACT-1 trial compared two HIV viral load thresholds, <1000 and <30 000 copies/ml, for switching to second-line ART among children taking non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) or protease inhibitor (PI)-based first-line regimens. As expected, children starting NNRTIs as their first-line regimen developed more NRTI mutations than children starting on boosted PIs. Importantly, children switching to second line ART at the higher viral load threshold were much more likely to develop resistance if they were taking NNRTI as their first line regimen than if they were taking boosted PIs. The study highlights the more “forgiving” nature of the PI drug class in terms of development of drug resistance. The main implication of this finding is that delayed switching on PI-based ART is a safe option in settings where future drug options are limited, as the risk of development of clinically significant PI or NRTI mutations is low. Interestingly, use of an abacavir + lamivudine nucleoside backbone resulted in fewer thymidine analogue mutations (TAMs) than use of lamivudine + zidovudine or stavudine backbone. This finding was based on analysis of non-randomised data, but supports the current WHO recommendations to use abacavir as the first-line drug of choice in the NRTI backbone.

HIV Treatment
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START trial illustrates benefit of ART start with CD4>500

Initiation of antiretroviral therapy in early asymptomatic HIV infection.

Lundgren J, Babiker A,  Gordin F, Emery S, Grund B, Sharma S, Avihingsanon A, Cooper D, Fätkenheuer G, Llibre J, Molina J, Munderi P, Schechter M, Wood R, Klingman K, Collins S, Lane H, Phillips A,  Neaton J. INSIGHT START Study Group. N Engl J Med. 2015 Jul 20. [Epub ahead of print]

Background: Data from randomized trials are lacking on the benefits and risks of initiating antiretroviral therapy in patients with asymptomatic human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection who have a CD4+ count of more than 350 cells per cubic millimeter.

Methods: We randomly assigned HIV-positive adults who had a CD4+ count of more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter to start antiretroviral therapy immediately (immediate-initiation group) or to defer it until the CD4+ count decreased to 350 cells per cubic millimeter or until the development of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or another condition that dictated the use of antiretroviral therapy (deferred-initiation group). The primary composite end point was any serious AIDS-related event, serious non-AIDS-related event, or death from any cause.

Results: A total of 4685 patients were followed for a mean of 3.0 years. At study entry, the median HIV viral load was 12 759 copies per milliliter, and the median CD4+ count was 651 cells per cubic millimeter. On May 15, 2015, on the basis of an interim analysis, the data and safety monitoring board determined that the study question had been answered and recommended that patients in the deferred-initiation group be offered antiretroviral therapy. The primary end point occurred in 42 patients in the immediate-initiation group (1.8%; 0.60 events per 100 person-years), as compared with 96 patients in the deferred-initiation group (4.1%; 1.38 events per 100 person-years), for a hazard ratio of 0.43 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.30 to 0.62; P<0.001). Hazard ratios for serious AIDS-related and serious non-AIDS-related events were 0.28 (95% CI, 0.15 to 0.50; P<0.001) and 0.61 (95% CI, 0.38 to 0.97; P=0.04), respectively. More than two thirds of the primary end points (68%) occurred in patients with a CD4+ count of more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter. The risks of a grade 4 event were similar in the two groups, as were the risks of unscheduled hospital admissions.

Conclusions: The initiation of antiretroviral therapy in HIV-positive adults with a CD4+ count of more than 500 cells per cubic millimeter provided net benefits over starting such therapy in patients after the CD4+ count had declined to 350 cells per cubic millimeter.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Editor’s notes: Guidelines on when to start antiretroviral therapy (ART) are rapidly evolving. The major point of uncertainty, and disagreement between guidelines, has been whether the benefits to individuals of starting ART outweigh the risks for people with high CD4 counts, where the absolute risk of morbidity and mortality is relatively low.

The START study addressed this question among people with CD4 counts greater than 500 cells per µl. Study participants were recruited across the global regions, with the largest number from Europe (33%) followed by Latin America (25%) and Africa (21%). Some 55% were gay men and other men who have sex with men. Retention in the study was very good, and virologic outcomes among people who started ART were excellent (98% and 97% had virologic suppression by 12 months in the immediate versus deferred study arms). There was a 57% reduction in the hazard of the primary outcome, a composite of serious AIDS-associated events, serious non-AIDS associated events or death from any cause. The most common AIDS-associated events were tuberculosis (mostly seen in African participants), malignant lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma. Among the serious non-AIDS events, cancers unrelated to AIDS were reduced by 50%, but interestingly there was no change in cardiovascular events. There was no increase in risk of serious adverse events. Interestingly the magnitude of risk reduction for the primary outcome was similar in high- and low-income countries.

These results will be very important as ART guidelines are reviewed and are likely to lead to recommendations for ART initiation, regardless of CD4 count in most settings. The authors note that, with a relatively low absolute risk of serious events, some people with high CD4 counts may opt to defer treatment, and this trial has produced very useful data to inform this discussion. Benefits from earlier ART initiation are dependent on earlier testing.  With an estimated 50% of people with HIV globally unaware of their status, the uptake of testing by asymptomatic people will need to be increased. In addition, retention in care will need to be optimised if the potential benefits of ART demonstrated by this study are to be realised.

HIV Treatment
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