An injection of Cabotegravir every two months is more effective in protecting against HIV than PrEP pills (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) taken daily, according to results released by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Injecting the anti-HIV drug called Cabotegravir every eight weeks is even more effective in preventing infection with the AIDS virus HIV than the currently available daily PrEP pills, which have already revolutionized prevention from getting the virus, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Monday.
The NIH has published preliminary results of a large clinical trial, launched more than three years ago in seven countries including the United States, Brazil, Thailand, and South Africa, involving men who have sex with men and transgender women, most of whom are under 30 years of age. These are the groups at the highest risk in the HIV epidemic. Another trial with women is underway.
At present, the only approved preventive drug is a pill for prophylaxis before exposure, which is marketed in the United States under the brand names Truvada and Descovy. People who do not have HIV must take it daily, and the risk of becoming infected through unprotected sex is reduced by 99%, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the need to take it every day is considered a potential barrier, hence the search for a less restrictive method.
One injection every two months with very positive results
The results published on Monday are based on the study of over 4,500 people. Half received a bi-monthly injection of Cabotegravir (with placebo PrEP pills) and the other half received a placebo injection (and real PrEP pills). All participants were therefore treated with one method or another. Fifty participants were still infected with HIV during this period, but unevenly: 12 in the Cabotegravir group and 38 in the Truvada group. This means that the injection is 69% more effective than Truvada, which is already considered a pillar of prevention policy, especially in the United States, where, according to Gilead, at least 200,000 people at risk take it.
Still, the safest way to avoid getting infected is to engage in safe sex as these PrEP drugs can cause some serious side effects and are not 100% guaranteed to work. Getting tested after an unsafe encounter must always be done as it can help mitigate the spread of the virus to others. STDcheck is a service that could be used confidentially for testing for one’s status as soon as 1 week after exposure.
In view of these very positive results, the study was terminated prematurely so that all participants could benefit from the most effective method. “We are very pleased with the results, not only because of the high efficacy of Cabotegravir but also because we have demonstrated the high efficacy in a study that adequately represents the most HIV-affected populations: black MSM (men who have sex with men) in the United States, young MSM from around the world, transsexual women,” said Kimberly Smith, Director of Research and Development, ViiV Healthcare (GSK Group).