Health: New HIV Prevention Drug Shows 100% Efficacy In Clinical Trial

Health: New HIV Prevention Drug Shows 100% Efficacy In Clinical Trial

By Spy Uganda

A large clinical trial in South Africa and Uganda has shown that a twice-yearly injection of a new pre-exposure prophylaxis drug gives young women total protection from HIV infection.

The trial tested whether the six-month injection of lenacapavir would provide better protection against HIV infection than two other drugs, both daily pills. All three medications are pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) drugs.

Physician-scientist Linda-Gail Bekker, principal investigator for the South African part of the study, tells Nadine Dreyer what makes this breakthrough so significant and what to expect next.

The Purpose 1 trial with 5,000 participants took place at three sites in Uganda and 25 sites in South Africa to test the efficacy of lenacapavir and two other drugs.

Lenacapavir (Len LA) is a fusion capside inhibitor. It interferes with the HIV capsid, a protein shell that protects HIV’s genetic material and enzymes needed for replication. It is administered just under the skin, once every six months.

The randomised controlled trial, sponsored by the drug developers Gilead Sciences, tested several things.

The first was whether a six-monthly injection of lenacapavir was safe and would provide better protection against HIV infection as PrEP for women between the ages of 16 and 25 years than Truvada F/TDF, a daily PrEP pill in wide use that has been available for more than a decade.

Secondly, the trial also tested whether Descovy F/TAF, a newer daily pill, was as effective as F/TDF. The newer F/TAF has superior pharmacokinetic properties to F/TDF. Pharmacokinetic refers to the movement of a drug into, through, and out of the body. F/TAF is a smaller pill and is in use among men and transgender women in high-income countries.

The trial had three arms. Young women were randomly assigned to one of the arms in a 2:2:1 ratio (Len LA: F/TAF oral: F/TDF oral) in a double blinded fashion. This means neither the participants nor the researchers knew which treatment participants were receiving until the clinical trial was over.

In eastern and southern Africa, young women are the population who bear the brunt of new HIV infections. They also find a daily PrEP regimen challenging to maintain, for a number of social and structural reasons.

During the randomised phase of the trial none of the 2,134 women who received lenacapavir contracted HIV. There was 100 percent efficiency.

By comparison, 16 of the 1,068 women (or 1.5%) who took Truvada (F/TDF) and 39 of 2,136 (1.8%) who received Descovy (F/TAF) contracted the HIV virus.

The results at a recent independent data safety monitoring board review led to the recommendation that the trial’s “blinded” phase should be stopped and all participants should be offered a choice of PrEP.

This board is an independent committee of experts who are put in place at the start of a clinical trial. They see the unblinded data at stipulated times during the trial to monitor progress and safety. They ensure that a trial does not continue if there is harm or a clear benefit in one arm over others.

There were 1.3 million new HIV infections globally in the past year. Although that’s fewer than the 2 million infections seen in 2010, it is clear that at this rate we are not going to meet the HIV new infection target that UNAIDS set for 2025 (fewer than 500,000 globally) or potentially even the goal to end Aids by 2030. an accessible web community

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