Fewer clinical events with early antiretroviral therapy in a trial among serodiscordant couples

Effects of early versus delayed initiation of antiretroviral treatment on clinical outcomes of HIV-1 infection: results from the phase 3 HPTN 052 randomised controlled trial.

Grinsztejn B, Hosseinipour MC, Ribaudo HJ, Swindells S, Eron J, Chen YQ, Wang L, Ou SS, Anderson M, McCauley M, Gamble T, Kumarasamy N, Hakim JG, Kumwenda J, Pilotto JH, Godbole SV, Chariyalertsak S, de Melo MG, Mayer KH, Eshleman SH, Piwowar-Manning E, Makhema J, Mills LA, Panchia R, Sanne I, Gallant J, Hoffman I, Taha TE, Nielsen-Saines K, Celentano D, Essex M, Havlir D, Cohen MS, HPTN 052-ACTG Study Team. Lancet Infect Dis. 2014 Apr;14(4):281-90. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70692-3. Epub 2014 Mar 4.

Background: Use of antiretroviral treatment for HIV-1 infection has decreased AIDS-related morbidity and mortality and prevents sexual transmission of HIV-1. However, the best time to initiate antiretroviral treatment to reduce progression of HIV-1 infection or non-AIDS clinical events is unknown. We reported previously that early antiretroviral treatment reduced HIV-1 transmission by 96%. We aimed to compare the effects of early and delayed initiation of antiretroviral treatment on clinical outcomes.

Methods: The HPTN 052 trial is a randomised controlled trial done at 13 sites in nine countries. We enrolled HIV-1-serodiscordant couples to the study and randomly allocated them to either early or delayed antiretroviral treatment by use of permuted block randomisation, stratified by site. Random assignment was unblinded. The HIV-1-infected member of every couple initiated antiretroviral treatment either on entry into the study (early treatment group) or after a decline in CD4 count or with onset of an AIDS-related illness (delayed treatment group). Primary events were AIDS clinical events (WHO stage 4 HIV-1 disease, tuberculosis, and severe bacterial infections) and the following serious medical conditions unrelated to AIDS: serious cardiovascular or vascular disease, serious liver disease, end-stage renal disease, new-onset diabetes mellitus, and non-AIDS malignant disease. Analysis was by intention-to-treat.

Findings: 1 763 people with HIV-1 infection and a serodiscordant partner were enrolled in the study; 886 were assigned early antiretroviral treatment and 877 to the delayed treatment group (two individuals were excluded from this group after randomisation). Median CD4 counts at randomisation were 442 (IQR 373-522) cells per μL in patients assigned to the early treatment group and 428 (357-522) cells per μL in those allocated delayed antiretroviral treatment. In the delayed group, antiretroviral treatment was initiated at a median CD4 count of 230 (IQR 197-249) cells per μL. Primary clinical events were reported in 57 individuals assigned to early treatment initiation versus 77 people allocated to delayed antiretroviral treatment (hazard ratio 0.73, 95% CI 0.52-1.03; p=0.074). New-onset AIDS events were recorded in 40 participants assigned to early antiretroviral treatment versus 61 allocated delayed initiation (0.64, 0.43-0.96; p=0.031), tuberculosis developed in 17 versus 34 patients, respectively (0.49, 0.28-0.89, p=0.018), and primary non-AIDS events were rare (12 in the early group vs nine with delayed treatment). In total, 498 primary and secondary outcomes occurred in the early treatment group (incidence 24.9 per 100 person-years, 95% CI 22.5-27.5) versus 585 in the delayed treatment group (29.2 per 100 person-years, 26.5-32.1; p=0.025). 26 people died, 11 who were allocated to early antiretroviral treatment and 15 who were assigned to the delayed treatment group.

Interpretation: Early initiation of antiretroviral treatment delayed the time to AIDS events and decreased the incidence of primary and secondary outcomes. The clinical benefits recorded, combined with the striking reduction in HIV-1 transmission risk previously reported, provides strong support for earlier initiation of antiretroviral treatment.

Abstract access  [1]

Editor’s notes: The HPTN 052 trial has received wide attention for its main result. This shows a large reduction in HIV transmission risk among HIV-serodiscordant couples where HIV-positive partners with CD4 counts between 350 and 550 started immediate antiretroviral therapy (ART). This was compared to deferring treatment until the CD4 count fell below 250 or an AIDS-defining illness occurred. This analysis reports on clinical events in the trial. Despite the trial population having relatively high CD4 counts at baseline, new AIDS-defining events, excluding tuberculosis, were the most common outcome. These were reduced in the early ART arm. Tuberculosis incidence was reduced by half. Non-AIDS events were rare.

For these trial results to translate into population level benefits, more people need to know their HIV status at an early stage, before they develop symptomatic disease. People with positive test results then need to link to care successfully so that treatment can be initiated. Stigma remains a key barrier to testing and accessing care in many settings. Virologic suppression among people in the intervention arm of this trial was very high, implying very good adherence to treatment. Strategies to support excellent adherence and retention are needed as ART programmes expand and include people starting ART earlier.

Comorbidity [4], HIV Treatment [5]
Africa [6], Asia [7], Latin America [8]
Botswana [9], Brazil [10], India [11], Kenya [12], Malawi [13], South Africa [14], Thailand [15], Zimbabwe [16]
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